By Joy Lanzendorfer
Editor's note: First Bite is a new concept in restaurant writing. We invite you to come along with our writers as they--informed, intelligent eaters like yourselves--have a simple meal at an area restaurant, just like you do. This is not a go-three-times, try-everything-on-the-menu report; rather, this is a quick snapshot of a single experience.
They say that Thai food is the new Chinese food. Lately, it seems like every strip mall is opening a Thai restaurant. But not all are created equally. People had been talking about Thai Orchid in Healdsburg--how the owner worked at Thai House on Santa Rosa's Fourth Street until it changed owners, how the food is affordable and good--so we decided to check it out.
The menu has a large selection of dishes--I counted 71--ranging from $6.95 to $14.95. For an appetizer, we ordered the duck fresh roll ($8.50). Each roll was wrapped in a translucent wonton to show off its colorful contents of white bean sprouts, orange carrots, red bell peppers and brown duck. The six rolls stood in a cluster on a plate of brown plum sauce. Along with the garnish of parsley and thin enoki mushrooms, it looked like a tiny tropical garden. But with only one thin slice of meat per roll, they were a little heavy on the bean sprouts and light on the duck, but the plum sauce was excellent--sweet with a mild spicy kick.
Next came the entrées. I ordered the special: deep-fried soft-shell crab with shrimp and mixed vegetables in peanut sauce ($13.95). At first, what arrived didn't seem very Thai--a plate of deep-fried objects with a small crowd of vegetables in one corner. Upon closer inspection, I saw that one of the deep-fried objects was a small crab. The others were shrimp.
Skeptically, I tried the crab and was delighted. The batter was light, something between beer batter and tempura, and the peanut sauce the crab was sitting in was not too sweet. Between the soft meat of the crab, the richness of the sauce and the crunch of the batter, the dish was surprising and delicious. My companion, a masochist who enjoys food so hot it hurts to swallow, ordered duck curry ($9.95). "Medium spicy?" the waitress said.
"Spicy-spicy," he said confidently.
It came in a white bowl, a yellow souplike mixture with pineapple, green beans, bell pepper and duck crowned with a fresh basil bud. "Is it spicy-spicy?" I asked.
"Not really," he said. "I would say it's medium spicy."
"You're sweating," I said, pointing at his moist forehead.
"But I'm not reaching for my water glass every few minutes."
I didn't realize that was the standard. I tasted it. The curry sauce was thin with a complicated spice-base that was meaty and full on the tongue. It also had the kind of spiciness that sneaks up on you afterwards, and it made me reach for my water glass.
For dessert, I had mildly sweet sticky rice covered with half a mango ($7.95). My companion ordered the far superior fried bananas with coconut ice cream, which consisted of four balls of deep-fried banana covered with creamy, homemade ice cream ($4.95).
Overall, Thai Orchid offers food with fresh ingredients and great presentation, all for a reasonable price. I will definitely go back.
Thai Orchid Cuisine, 1005 Vine St., Healdsburg. Lunch and dinner daily. 707.433.0515.
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From the March 30-April 5, 2005 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.