6219 S. Highland Drive, Holladay ; 801-274-3000
Delicious food is devoid of the oversweetening that plagues other Thai eateries. Friendly service.
Hours: M-F, 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; M-Th, 5-9 p.m.; F, 5-9:30 p.m.; S, noon-9 p.m.
Liquor: Beer & Wine
Reservations: Not accepted/necessary
Recommended Dishes: Green curry, grilled prawn salad, $8 lunch combo, dried chili condiment for heat lovers.
February 20, 2008
In a tiny space, deft delivery of sweet, savory and service
By Vanessa Chang
HOLLADAY -- Once you walk into Thai Orchid, you get an idea of how small the operation is. Tucked into a strip mall that's also home to Snyder Brothers Meats and China Grill, you could almost miss it. When you're in the waiting area, which actually is just a space in front of the door, you see one waiter, two cooks and a full dining room with about 30 people. And the aromas -- you get wafts of ginger, garlic, lemon grass and just-cooked jasmine rice sizzling away in the kitchen and on patrons' tables.
Despite the box location, it's a cozy space. The edges are smoothed out with Thai woodwork and an austere addition of accessories and drapes that block out the parking lot view. The lone server is always friendly, whether you're picking up a take-out order during lunch or waiting for a table for dinner. And you may be waiting for a while if it's busy, when the lone friendly fellow is stretched rather thin with busing, refilling drinks, placing orders and making everyone happy.
Nevertheless it's worth the wait. Since August 2005, Thai Orchid has garnered a reputation with locals as a reliable place for great Thai food. It's particularly popular for lunch where the lunch combo (two items of your choice with rice and house salad) is a pocketbook-pleasing $7.95. The menu itself isn't anything unique. The usual suspects of fried curry puffs ($6.95), pad Thai ($9.95) tinged red with chilies and slightly tart with a squeeze of lime juice and the luscious tom kha gai soup ($4.95; $9.95) form the basis of the menu. Still, there's no shortage of options.
One thing that makes the place stand apart is the quality of the food. Sure, the folks of Zion like their food sweet. And the sweetness does help to quell the spice. But if it's the only thing you taste in a dish, I don't really see the point of it. There's no such problem at Thai Orchid, where there is a deftness in the balance between spicy, sweet, sour and even the obligatory funk from the Thai fish sauce seasoning.
An example of this balance is the yum goong ($12.95). Grilled prawns are strewn over a salad of lettuce, red onions, cucumber, tomatoes and fresh mint leaves. You detect the dressing first -- definitely contains fish sauce. But when you take in all the texture and flavor, you get a punch of tart lime juice and just a touch of palm sugar to offset the sweetness of the shrimp and the crunch of the fresh ingredients. Yum neua ($11.95) made with beef is just as appetizing.
Even those who prefer sickly sweet levels of seasoning were pleased with the result of the fragrant stir-fry pad him ma parn ($9.95). That's onions, pineapples, mushrooms and chilies to you and me. There's no gloppy sauce, no abundant sugaring, meaning you actually taste the beautiful texture (nothing is overcooked) and each ingredient.
Of course, you can't talk Thai without mentioning curry. Thai Orchid has plenty, but the item that stood out was the subtly colored but intensely flavored green curry. Again, balance at its best. At medium spice levels, there was a gratifying heat playing against the sweet coconut milk. Floral-scented lime leaves, anise-tinged Thai basil and chilies wafted from the bowl that also held strips of tender chicken, bamboo shoots, colorful chunks of bell pepper and sweet peas. It begged for spoonfuls of the accompanying jasmine rice.
For spice freaks who love the fieryness of Thai cuisine, don't construe my description of Thai Orchid as a temple for the meek. I believe in balance, but if you insist on scalp-moistening heat, there's hope. Just ask for the dried chili condiment and the friendly server will bring out a little container of something that I can only describe as "hell in a spoon." My spice junkie friends call it heaven. Just be mindful of the noises you'll make and your reaction. Remember, everyone in the shoebox-sized eatery can hear and see your every reaction.
On May 30, 2006, at 11:36 AM, Lesli Neilson wrote:
Tribune's rating system
1 star Good
2 stars Very good
3 stars Excellent
4 stars Extraordinary
$ Entree under $10
$$$$ Above $25
1 bell Quiet (under 65 decibles)
2 bells Can talk easily (65-70)
3 bells Talking somewhat difficult (70-75)
4 bells Raised voices (75-80)
A bomb Too noisy for normal conversation (80+)
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