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Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Blue Orchid over and over and over

There have been millions of bits spilled virtually all over this site and Lincolnite arguing the merits of Lincoln’s newest Thai restaurant, Blue Orchid. Contributing writer Jack Jackson has made cases against Blue Orchid here and here(also accompanied by a pro review from Gary). The owners of Blue Orchid were big enough to respond to the numerous complaints about the service on this post at Lincolnite. That gave me hope for the restaurant because the response was clearly written, contained no excuses and offered solutions to the problems.

So after remaining above the tempest in a teapot that is Blue Orchid and one failed attempt to eat at Blue Orchid on a Sunday night when they are closed, I finally took the plunge this past Friday night.

Sarah, myself and three friends had a 6:30 reservation. I dropped Sarah off at what looked like the front door on the south side of the building and finally wound up parking in a garage after failing to find a spot on the street. I wasn’t aware that the best way to enter was on the east side of the old federal building so I entered where the Blue Orchid sign was which meant I got to take a nice tour of the first floor of the old building.

By the time I had sat down after parking everyone at the table had a drink in front of them. Sarah’s was supposed to be a strawberry smoothie but it was totally unsmooth, more like a virgin strawberry daiquiri or a strawberry Snoopy sno-cone in a glass. Sarah was expecting something more on the order of a mango lassi which was totally understandable given the “smooth” in the name of the drink.

The menu presented the standard array of Thai dishes – noodles and curries – along with some slightly more expensive dishes that appeared to be house specialties. The prices for the entrees were not bad at all. I forgot my secret restaurant spy notepad so I can’t say for sure but I don’t think any of the specialties exceeded $13 or $14. The noodles dishes were all around $7 or $8 if you went with the delicious tofu but go up by a buck or two if you feel the need to add meat. The curries were priced similarly. The appetizers were also familiar – chicken satay, fried spring rolls, raw spring rolls (the restaurant had a different name for them but I think of the Vietnamese-style spring roll here), etc. One thing I noticed missing from the menu, unless I totally overlooked it, was green papaya salad.

We ordered a couple of appetizers. The raw spring rolls contained egg which wasn’t something I’d encountered before so I decided to put off the adventure for the night and go with the fried ones. We also ordered chicken satay because I’ve never had bad chicken satay. Creamy peanut sauce covers all imperfections.

The appetizers arrived in good time, probably about 10 minutes or so. The chicken satay was very good and well worth the $5.95 price. The pieces of chicken were large, juicy and lightly curried. The peanut sauce wasn’t even necessary but since it was there, it was hard not to partake. The spring rolls were another story. We got 5 spring rolls but here’s the kicker, they were about half the size of my index finger. Given the ratio of skin to filling in a spring roll of this size it wasn’t much of a surprise that the roll tasted like the fried wrapper and the sauce in which I dipped it rather than a combination of that and what was inside. I’ll definitely pass on the spring rolls next time.

We ordered our entrees around the same time as our appetizers but it was at least 30 minutes after we had finished our appetizers, maybe even a little more, before our entrees arrived. The restaurant was full but it wasn’t incredibly busy. In Lincoln I’m used to entrees arriving before I can even finish my soup so this was a little odd but I don’t think 30 minutes post-appetizer is bad. The purpose of the appetizer is to “arouse your appetite without bedding it back down” and if you get the entrée too quickly there’s a danger of a traffic jam developing in your stomach. Anyway, dinner out on a Friday night is as much for conversation as it is for eating. 30 minutes is acceptable for a dinner but certainly not for lunch. I haven’t been to Blue Orchid for lunch since their original service problems were noted all over the local interweb.

I decided to go against type and order the mussaman curry with beef which is basically a beef and potato stew with a sweet and spicy coconut curry sauce. The menu warned that it was spicy but I had to add a decent amount of chili paste to get the heat I wanted and it probably interfered with the intended flavor of the dish a little bit. If you want something spicy, make sure you mention it because menu spicy is just slightly too hot for my grandmother. The initial flavor was good but after a few bites the sweetness and coconut began to overwhelm everything else and all I could think about was the appetizer fad of 2002, coconut shrimp. The potato in the dish was also a little undercooked. In a stew-like dish like this I expect the potato to be more than fork-tender and I had to put a decent amount of pressure on the potato in order to cut it although it was still edible.

Sarah, who has been searching for decent and consistent pad thai in Lincoln for a long time, ordered the pad thai. It comes with delicious tofu and Sarah took the two dollar plunge and added shrimp. The pad thai itself was just what Sarah had been looking for - the noodles were not too wide, there was just the right amount of egg, the terrific pad thai flavor was there without it being too saucy. The only problem was that the shrimp was cold. It had been warmed up by the noodles some but it was as if the chef prepared the pad thai and then threw in a handful of shrimp as an afterthought, or suddenly remembered that this order included shrimp after he had finished cooking. Pad thai with tofu only is the way to go here since it’s only around $7. No reason to spend two bucks on the chance of getting cold meat with your noodles.

Two of my party ordered the Orchid Chicken which came in half a pineapple. I was more than slightly disappointed that the dish did not come with a rare orchid I could pilfer. I stole a bite of it and it reminded me of a less sweet sweet and sour chicken with fresher ingredients. Not bad, but not something I would ever order. The other member of our party had the Seafood Madness(!) which was a mélange of seafood including shrimp, squid, mussels, scallops and salmon. The salmon seemed a bit of an odd choice for a Thai dish. I’d expect a firm white fish in a dish like this. It was definitely a good value though. Seafood dishes are always quite a bit more expensive here and this was around $13.

The bill was absolutely reasonable. Sarah and I spent less than $40 (including tip) for two entrees, an appetizer, a virgin strawberry daiquiri (smoothie) and two Thai iced coffees (Iced lattes, essentially. For some reason I was expecting something akin to Vietnamese iced coffee with sweetened condensed milk in the bottom of the glass.)

The atmosphere was as advertised. The room was cavernous and painted in relaxing greens. The music wasn’t too loud like it is at many Asian restaurants. However, I’ll take a lot less atmosphere if I can consistently get great food. It appears Blue Orchid is trying to be the Thai Oven and they’re far from that goal. I don’t think they’ll have any trouble staying open since the atmosphere and location instantly creates a trendy restaurant but I’ll be waiting awhile for a return dinner visit.


Anonymous Mr. T said...

Dude - You are right: the lack of Som Tam/Tam Som is a big hole in their menu. This is something that struck me my first visit there. I can show you how to make it but I need a mortar and pestle (I gave mine to my brother) and quality raw papaya.

8:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've been back a couple times now and my fav is the Panang Curry, a red curry that I was told is the oldest of the family recipes on the menu.

It is actually spicy but I'd order it extra spicy if you're looking for lots of heat. The curry is very thick and seems to have a lot of coconut milk because it's also pretty sweet... I ordered it with chicken which was very tender. If you're a fan of similarly sweet items like satay and pad thai, you'll probably like this as well.

The Drunken Noodles dish is also great. Ordered that at a dinner with the family - who are not typically thai food fans - and that was the favorite dish of the night.

The name escapes me, but order the cocount milk-based soup if you like that sort of thing. It's excellent.

If you're there in the middle of rush, you'll still wait a bit but an early dinner had no hangups.


11:44 AM  

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