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Monday, April 10, 2006

Steve Forgets to Post Jackson's Review... Again; Cute Little Kitten Cries

Thai Garden and Thai House

By Jack Jackson

Because there are still some Blue Orchid (Blue Acrid) apologists out there, because they seem to be so happy that “good” Thai food is in Lincoln now, I wanted to take some time to write briefly about what makes Thai Garden and Thai House superior to Blue Orchid.
Let me start with a brief vignette about the last time I went to Windchimes. The woman owner and I began discussing Thai food in town. I asked what her favorites were, secretly hoping she’d say Thai House or Thai Garden, because those have always been my favorites, and I wanted my ethnic tastes to be vindicated. She said that you have to go to a big city to get good Thai food. No one in town does it right, she said.
So, imagine my excitement when I hear that Blue Orchid was originally a Chicago restaurant. Chicago’s a big city, so maybe it would be good Thai food. And I’ve eaten at many different Thai restaurants in Chicago, so I think I’ve got a good perspective on it all.
But Blue Orchid’s food just isn’t as good as either Thai House or Thai Garden. I know some people have been less than impressed by Thai Garden, and these are usually the Pad Thai freaks, the people that always get some kind of rice noodle dish. But the key to Thai Garden ordering is the curries. Their yellow chicken curry is really tasty, and the broth/sauce in it is nowhere near as sweet as Blue Orchid’s.
You know what I think is funny about Thai Garden and Thai House? I’ve eaten at each of them over thirty times, and I’ve never, ever had my food served tepid or cold. It happened the first time at Blue Orchid. Thai food tastes better served straight from the kitchen, and both Thai Garden and Thai House serve their food straight from the kitchen. Point for Thai Garden, Point for Thai House.
The food is better and . . . cheaper (!) at Thai Garden and Thai House. Point for Thai Garden, Point for Thai House.
The lunch special at Thai House comes with: optional hot/sour soup, mandatory chicken satay, and mandatory spring roll. Thai Garden’s lunch special comes with the excellent hot-spicy cabbage soup Tom Kha Gai (which is up there for me with Sher-E Punjab’s Mulligatawny as far as addictiveness goes), and spring roll. What’s amazing is that these always all come to you hot! And tasty. Blue Orchid can’t say that. Point for Thai Garden, Point for Thai House.
The servers at Thai House and Thai Garden never blame the kitchen for anything, and when I’ve been there, they’ve never had to. Point for Thai House, Point for Thai Garden.
The Thai Garden has that cute little bridge to walk over. Point for Thai Garden.
The dishes are fancy at Blue Orchid. Point for Blue Orchid. Wait. I don’t care about how fancy the dishes are at any restaurant. Point taken away.
There you have it. Thai Garden wins a close one because of that cute little bridge.

Stop making excuses for Blue Orchid. That restaurant needs to go back to Chicago where it can hide in a tide of mediocrity.


Blogger Gary said...

The Thai House is my favorite Thai restaurant in Lincoln but I do like the atmosphere at Blue Orchid. I will ALWAYS choose Thai House over Blue Orchid, but I like having the option of the Blue Orchid and I've eaten there about three times (compared to the dozens at Thai House).

Regarding Windchimes. A co-worker ate there once a couple of years ago and there was a grasshopper (it appeared to be cooked to a medium well) in his food.

4:07 PM  
Anonymous Mr. Wilson said...

I can't speak of Thai House, but Thai Garden was an incredible disappointment on my last two visits. For example, I can quickly contradict your statements that "these [dishes] always all come to you hot! And tasty." Especially the former. (The latter is subjective.) Neither criticism (among others I could make) makes Thai Garden a dive, but it does mean it'll be a while before I return or recommend it to others.

10:07 AM  
Blogger Swoof said...

I've never had a good meal at Thai Garden and Thai House is very inconsistent. Last time I tried to go to Blue Orchid it was closed so I still haven't been there.

1:23 PM  
Anonymous jackjackson said...

I only know that I have never had food served cold or slow from Thai Garden, but Blue Orchid was simply one of the worst, if not the worst, dining experiences I've ever had, and many people I've talked to have agreed with that assessment. What I don't understand is the number of people who are willing to apologize for Blue Orchid's poor service because they think the food is so much better than the other Thai restaurants in town.

To me, there is no excuse for it, and I will do my best to steer people away from Blue Orchid and to the other Thai restaurants in town until Blue Orchid goes out of business.

2:01 PM  
Anonymous Mr. Wilson said...


When was the last time you visited Blue Orchid? Just curious.

9:01 AM  
Anonymous Jack Jackson said...

It must have been about six weeks ago. If you're going to tell me the serivce is better now, I don't care, because the food is cheaper (objective) and better (subjective) at other Thai places in town.

9:05 AM  
Anonymous Maggie Osterberg said...

How do the current Thai restaurants compare to the late, deeply lamented Four Suns? I found 4 Suns' Thai food to be comparable to the Thai I'd grown used to in San Francisco. (Couldn't say the same of their Chinese dishes, but they were at least fresh.)

Windchimes, eh. I've yet to have something there that wasn't gloppy, over-sweetened and over-breaded. (What is it with Lincoln Chinese restaurants and rice flower?!?!? Dammit, you don't have to bread every single bit of meat that comes into your kitchens, people!) In south Lincoln, I'd have to say that the takeout orders from Jade Rivers have been superior to anything from Windchimes.

Maybe someone could explain the appeal of Windchimes to me- perhaps their curries and schezuan dishes are a weak spot. What's good there?

2:47 PM  
Anonymous Jack Jackson said...

I liked Four Suns quite a bit. Right up there with Thai House for me.

Golden Wok is my favorite Chinese in town. What I've had that was decent at Windchimes was their eggrolls, bell pepper beef, and mixed chicken vegetable (white sauce).

3:40 PM  
Anonymous Barbara said...

I've heard of, but not experienced, the bad service at Blue Orchid. I've been twice, and had great service with the food served hot and quickly both times.

However, I prefer Thai House. It's in my neighborhood, I love the yellow curry (with tofu), the spring rolls are hot, the service is great (quick and friendly, too). And the prices are much better. So, why would I go to Blue Orchid again?

4:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good comparison among the three restaurants. I've been to all three and been eating Thai food in so called big city for 15 years before living in lincoln. Here is my take.

Thai garden:

The first time I ate there is about 5 years ago. Order the boat noodle which is my favorite. My wife and I were extremely disappointed since it was no where near the real boat noodle. Since then, I've been there a couple of times. I like the cabbage soup but it is not the authentic tom-kha soup. Typically, tom-kha soup don't have cabbage and more coconut milk. The real tom-kha is also flavored with fresh lime juice and not vinegar. So it is a tasty soup but not tom-kha. I once ordered the basil chicken and was disappointed to find too much onion and only two basil leaves. I know that thai basil is expensive ($6.00/pound at local vietnamese store) but they got to be able to do better than 2-3 leaves. I also had the green curry chicken the other time for lunch. It was pretty good but did like the dark meat in there. Don't take this too serious. Some people like dark meat and some don't. I just don't like dark meat.

Thai House:

I've only been there once. I did not like to see ketchup in the pad-thai. The panang curry is good but a bit water down. In my book, panang should be very thick. Lunch is a good deal. The restaurant is operated family style which is friendly. They are not that busy so this is doable.

Blue Orchid:

I've been there three times. The first time was before the ground zero fiasco. The food was very good. The service was not bad for a few days old restaurant. I had the panang and loved the fact that they sprinkle thinly sliced kaffir lime leaves as garnish. It really brought out the flavor. I also liked the fact that it was thick. This means that they did not water down the curry. The tom-kha was more authentic than thai garden but the taste was a tad weak. My favorite thai appetizer is spring rolls. It is the steamed rolls with tofu, bean sprout, and egg. BTW: this is much different than the vietnamese spring roll which is made of rice paper and rice noodle. The one I had at the blue orchid was very good.

The second time was a week after the ground zero. The food was still very good but service was much slower. The place was packed with lots of people waiting. I realized then and there that this restaurant could not operate "family style" like Thai house. There was just way too much traffic. They needed to add more servers fast and hopefully more people to work in the kitchen. I ordered basil pork and was happy to see plenty of basil leaves and just about the right amount of onion. I also ordered the tom-kha soup again but this time, I told the server to make it as if I were a Thai. The result is much stronger flavor with sliced Thai peppers. My wife ordered the orchid chicken which was different from the traditional Thai cashew nut but still good. It was served in half pineapple shell.

The third time was about two weeks ago. Got a tour of the first floor as they have moved the main entrance. This time, my wife and I were greeted by a host. We did not see one the last time we were there. There are also more tables in the back section by the patio. The servers told us that they were working on patio seating for the summer. That should be very nice. This time, most items we ordered were not in the menu. We had the special appetizer, shrimp cakes. I also had the papaya salad (som tum) which was not on the menu. I just asked the server, and they just happened to have green papaya that day. We also ordered panang beef and softshell crabs (another special). The food was again very good. They did not cut corner on ingredients. The service was fast since they were not that busy when we got there but got another pack house by the time we left.

In summary, each restaurant has its good points and its bad points. Thai garden has good lunch deal but seems to be cutting corner a bit on ingredients to keep the price low. It doesn't seem to have good dinner business. Thai house also has good lunch deal and friendly environment. The food is also more authentic than Thai garden. Thai house doesn't seem to be as busy as the other two so one should expect fast service. Blue orchid doesn't cut corner on ingredients (it is very important to me). It seems to be as busy as other top Haymarket restaurants so I'm not sure how that would pan out in the long run. So far they seem to be maturing quite well as things appear to be much more organized than my second visit. Their price is higher than the other two but I don't mind paying extra for the ingredients and ambience. Anyway, their rent and labor costs are probably a lot higher than the other two restaurants.

Just my two cents.


3:28 AM  
Blogger Celia said...

I read with interest the series of reviews on Thai restaurants posted on your site. While reading in the review by Jack Jackson, of his desire to put the Blue Orchid out of business, it struck me that this wanna be food critic is just plain mean. Does the person behind this pseudonym have an actual career, or is trying to destroy other people's his primary activity? It would seem that someone in "Jack's" profession would understand the meaning of malicious intent. I wonder if "Jack" would like to have his "work" reviewed annonymously in such a mean spirited manner and posted on the internet. I do not know the owners of the Blue Orchid, but I think, that while some criticism may be valid, this crosses a line. While "Jack" entertains himself and possibly others with his witty and viscious criticism, other people stand to lose their livelihood and means of support. This is not the first review of his I have read that crossed that line. It is nice to have a site to share reviews. Discuss, share, critique, but don't destroy.

12:56 PM  

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