MOORHEAD — One general rule of thumb when it comes to reviewing ethnic food choices in Fargo-Moorhead, or anywhere else for that matter, is that everyone’s mother or grandmother cooks the best fill-in-the-blank anywhere in the world.
And who can doubt it? My mother made the best schnitzel and spaetzle in the world, and that’s not a complicated dish. I’ve had it a hundred times in a hundred places prepared by world-class chefs, and my mum’s is still the best.
So those of us who don’t know the mothers and grandmothers featured on menus are at a disadvantage. Still, you have to look for the maternal connection that goes around the world and back through time in order to know what’s happening on the plate. That’s for you to experience. No review can illustrate it.
Thai Orchid has been in Moorhead for a long time, but has been in new hands for considerably less. It’s a family owned and operated Thai diner. Some of the family share their time with Thailand often enough to keep their fingers on the pulse of family Thai cooking and the long tradition of Thai street food. Certain foods needs to be considered in light of the diversity inherent in these kinds of dishes.
An example is the peanut sauce that comes with the fried rice paper appetizer. It’s a softer version of the sometimes harsh peanut sauces dependent on pepper and lime for flavor. Simple, not too filling and not too fat. Consider it a better alternative to the chips and salsa so popular in Mexican restaurants.
Another more compelling option is the spring rolls using the same delicate rice paper, hand-rolled, tight around crystal noodles and easy to dip in an extraordinary sweet-and-sour sauce a long way from the pasty condiment version found on buffets across town.
But on the other side of the diversity issue is the pad thai, a traditional dish that also uses a peanut dressing — but instead of the fluid-smooth version of the sauce I’m so used to, the peanut dressing seemed a bit dry and chalky. Again, a regional variant perhaps, and open to debate, but different. What adds to the dish is that peanuts, vegetables and other ingredients are served separately on the plate, allowing you to mix it to your taste. And it’s rather attractive, too.
Another must-try is the Crying Tiger, which consists of beef served on a hot stone with sticky rice. It’s an experience that requires a deft hand. Leaving the beef on the stone turns a medium-rare marvel into a well-done bit of beef. That works for some, but those wanting the moisture will want it off the stone as soon as it arrives at the table. The vegetables are fresh, the beef nicely done and tender if managed well. The sticky rice is meant to spread on your hand to create a bed for the beef, which is then folded over and dipped in a variety of sauces, but the rice was a bit dry and didn’t make for easy shaping. It’s a detail, but for a dish that requires rice at a specific consistency as a central part of the presentation, it takes away from the experience.
The sticky rice with mango is a seriously sweet and ideal ending to the meal.
Service is excellent, and the menu is expansive. There’s only so much one can do with a mall dining space, but it's pleasant, inviting and welcoming.
Thai was among the first ethnic cuisines that made its way to Fargo and now shares the Asian restaurant space with Vietnamese, Japanese and Chinese options. Thai Orchid holds its own in a competitive market.
Address: 420 Center Ave. (Moorhead Center Mall), Moorhead
Hours: 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 4:30 to 8:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday
Alcohol: beer and wine
Ratings (out of 4 stars)
Food: 2 1/2 stars
Service: 3 1/2 stars
Ambiance: 2 1/2 stars
Eric Daeuber is an instructor at Minnesota State Community and Technical College. Readers can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.