Thai Orchids bloom in Stony Brook

Voice-Tribune review by Robin Garr

Thailand’s tropical shores, forests and mountains are home to beautiful orchids, making this beautiful tropical flower all but the unofficial symbol of this ancient Southeast Asian kingdom.

Hailing Thailand’s symbolic flower in its name, Louisville’s Thai Orchid arrived last year when Sala Thai departed Jeffersontown’s Stony Brook for a downtown location (now sadly defunct).

The venue remains quite attractive, not much changed from the prior tenant. The sizable storefront is divided into several smaller rooms. I like the one we picked at random, a small section with just two booths and two tables, but a big set of floor-to-ceiling windows allow in lots of daylight and offer a vista of, well, acres of parking lot.

Within, the walls are painted peach ice-cream color here, the hue of milky Thai iced coffee over there. Decor is ethnic and interesting, from a painting of a man in an exotic Thai headdress to a floral painting that surely represents Thai orchids.

Mahogany-look laminate tables are furnished with small black chairs. Salt-and-pepper shakers and tall glass tumblers are attractive; lightweight silverware wrapped in paper napkins not so much.

A fairly extensive menu includes familiar Thai standards. More than 50 dinner selections – about half of them listed as vegetarian – are mostly priced from $10 to $12, plus a diverse selection of appetizers, soups and salads.

We went for lunch and took advantage of the somewhat shorter, lower-price midday menu, which offers 16 main courses, several of them vegetarian, mostly priced at $7.99 (add a dollar for shrimp).

In a shared appetizer, four steamed Thai dumplings (Kanom Jeeb Moo, $3.50) were shaped like tiny purses filled with ground pork and finely chopped shrimp and water chestnuts, steamed, then topped with chopped peanuts. Attractively served on a simple white plate, they were accompanied by a tiny elephant-shaped dish for chili-soy dipping sauce.

A tiny, elegant egg roll (Po Pia Taud, $2.50), about one-third the size of the typical Chinese restaurant style, was crisp as glass, stuffed with chopped chicken, rice noodles, carrots and Asian cabbage, fried grease-free. The bright-orange dipping sauce was not sweet-sour but sweet-sour-HOT. Frankly, the dumpling was rather bland, a fried crispy bite that served best as a vehicle for the sauce.

My wife ordered the soup option with her lunch and got a clear broth loaded with straw mushrooms, boneless chicken bits and shreds of aromatic lemongrass. It was distinctly warm with spice, an unmentioned feature that some might not be pleased to get without warning.

I took the salad option and was rewarded with a bowl of crisp iceberg lettuce tossed with thick cucumber slices and chunks of tomato, dressed with that delicious sweet-tart gingery dressing that I usually associate with Japanese restaurants. No matter. I like. I devour.

My wife’s lunch pick, vegetarian fried rice (Kao Pad Pak, &7.50) contained oblongs of fried tofu, decoratively trimmed carrots, long strips of onion, pea pods and broccoli florets, napa cabbage and baby corn. She was unexcited about it, declaring it on the one-dimensional side, and that dimension was heat, not mouth-searing but spicy enough to get your attention. Thai food at its best is multi-dimensional and exciting, a symphony of flavors and textures, and I’m sorry, but we’re just not getting that in this dish.

My choice, Pad Thai ($7.50 plus $1 additional for shrimp) was a modest portion. Rice noodles were hot and cooked until soft; the bean sprouts that should go in at the last minute and remain crisp had hit the heat and gone limp, too. I could find only three shrimp in my ration, but they were good shrimp. Overall, its flavors were standard Thai-American, decent but not exciting.

With iced tea, strong and fresh, and water, served in tall glass tumblers with slices of lemon, lunch for two was $22.74. In a bow to hard times I left a 20 percent tip, although service was much like the food: acceptable but not memorable.

Thai Orchids Restaurant
Stony Brook Shopping Center
9114 Taylorsville Road