Tuesday, May 11, 2010
Thai Express, 4317 Kalamazoo SE - 5/6/10
It was recommended by a friend as being the best Thai food in Grand Rapids so we had to try it. After circling once through Towne & Country Plaza, we located the nondescript, little restaurant, and it’s a sliver of a space. The entrance is off the parking lot and the space extends up to windows facing Kalamazoo. Upon entry, you are welcomed by a table for seven and the restrooms. The room then divides into a hall of small tables for two on the left, with the kitchen running along on the right. The hall continues down to the aforesaid windows, and the kitchen ends in time to add three tables along these windows. In total, there were about 11 tables, the table for seven, three tables for four, and the rest for two. From the small table in the middle with two chairs, loaded with magazines, we’re assuming they do a bit of take-out service.
It was crowded when we walked in and we walked through and took the middle table by the windows. From this viewpoint, we could look back straight down into the kitchen. Decor is eclectic, ranging from warriors and deities to pictures of food and the popular Asian good-luck, beckoning cat (left paw up brings in customers). And with its somewhat mismatched curtains, this restaurant is not about ambiance but is all about the food. We could see an older woman doing most of the cooking and two younger women assisting in the kitchen or serving. Later on, a young man also surfaced in the kitchen. By the time we left, the restaurant was empty and they were all relaxing together at a table in the corner of the kitchen.
Our server was very friendly and helpful, prompt but never rushed us. We started off with the appetizer sampler that offered four appetizers, two of each, and it was a great way to try as much food as we could. The sampler had crab cheese (as good as Angel’s Thai Café, and those were good), goong tod (breaded shrimp, heavy breading), kai satay (chicken satay, just ok; peanut sauce couldn’t be detected and the curry was a little bitter), and kai tod (chicken wings, marinated in non-specified Thai herbs, with a slightly sweet sauce that was a tastebud treat). Although it wasn’t part of the sampler, spring rolls with sweet and sour chili sauce were also served, and they were delightful. Lightly deep fried, the ingredients were a harmonious balance of flavors and much better than others we’ve had, as was the accompanying sauce.
Choosing our main selections was more difficult as the menu is large (not a book like Angel’s, but big enough). The menu is divided as follows: Appetizers 1-9, Soup/Salad 1-6, Thai Curry 1-4, Thai Seafood 1-4, Thai Noodles 1-6, Thai Specialties 1-13, and on the website, Lunch Specials, items pulled from the written menu. As luck would have it, our choices ended up being “lunch specials”, which explained why we also received the spring rolls. Dishes are offered with choice of chicken, pork, tofu, or a combination, and for another dollar, you may select beef or shrimp. When we finally made our selections, our server asked us to choose our included dessert: cheesecake or ice cream sandwich.
Our first dish was pad prik, (red curry) with chicken, onion, bell peppers, bamboo shoots, and sweet basil. Second order (recommended by our server) was pad med ma muang, also with chicken (cashews, house sauce, onion, bell peppers, mushrooms). Both were incredibly good. Vegetables were obviously fresh and we saw the dishes being cooked - no overcooked, fast food here. But a word about the spice levels; our server explained that the levels ranged from one to ten. For women, she recommended level three and for men, level four. What? We both went bold and asked for level five - and it was just right. Both of us took some food home and were questioned as we asked for boxes - is it too hot? *sigh* The take-home boxes were the usual boxes found in most Asian restaurants but these had advertising on them from MetroPCS - most likely a mutually beneficial arrangement.
We wrote down a lot of information assuming that this little business would not have a website, but they do. The full menu is available, most items are under $10.00, and they also advertise catering services. Not ordered but brought to us was a thai sweet iced tea and a thai sweet iced coffee - we each claimed one - tasty, interesting, and yes, sweet. Our chosen cheesecake dessert came in the form of a plate offering small squares of chocolate chip, raspberry, and plain cheesecake. It was a brilliant, cool finish to a hot, spicy meal. Along with our bill came not only the non-fortune fortune cookies (“You are broad-mined (sic) and socially active” ), but also a sweet little sugar bowl with mints and a serving spoon - very nice touch.
So to summarize: this is probably the best Thai food you will find in Grand Rapids, at least to date. It’s not the full package of atmosphere + quality + service, but as Meatloaf once sang, “two out of three ain’t bad.”