- Aldrin Capulong
4696 Millenia Plaza Way
Orlando, FL 32839
With the scores of Thai restaurants that have opened their immoderately ornate spaces to the curry-and-noodle-eating masses over the years, my hope was that a handful would’ve taken a different tack in interior and menu design. Thai Passion, Tang’s and Kata all made valiant attempts to redirect and refine palates with a penchant for Siamese fare, but all eventually shut their doors.
Winter Park’s Orchid and SEA Thai on Colonial have made some strides, but as a general rule, you’ll find pretty much the same dishes in a Thai restaurant in Winter Garden as you would in the SoDo District. As far as Thai cuisine is concerned, Central Florida diners clearly crave more of the same – and there’s nothing wrong with that, but it doesn’t really motivate restaurateurs to broaden the options.
NaraDeva Thai, the latest in the glut, does little to expand our Siamese culinary vocabulary, but the menu is extensive enough to pique the interest of the liberal-minded diner. Steamed tapioca balls ($5.95), for example, resemble pregnant kiwis, but the gelatinous, faintly sweet orbs conceal a filling of seasoned pork mince, turnips and crushed peanuts that stress subtlety over savor. Toss ’em in the air and they’d likely stick to the wood beams overhead.
Wood, naturally, is a central design element in the heavily festooned space, once home to the Bear Rock Café. The sandwich joint’s centerpiece fireplace has been largely camouflaged with knickknacks and statues, with cauldrons placed inside the hearth for a proper Indochine effect. They’ve pretty much nailed the derivative yet hugely popular “gone bamboo” decor. Thankfully, the trio of chicken curry puffs ($5.95) wasn’t as overdone, but the mild filling in the flaky turnovers fell a bit flat – they didn’t compare to the ones served at Orchid.
For mains, the battered prawns in tamarind sauce ($19.95) caught our eyes, then tickled our throats, with a sweet-and-sour tang and a prickle of heat. Even-handed use of sauce meant the bed of cauliflower, carrots and broccoli stayed crunchy. Other entrees, like green curry with tofu ($13.95), supposedly the most fiery curry they serve, and crispy noodles in sesame gravy ($12.95), could’ve been so much more than the tame ho-hum dishes they turned out to be. If you’re a fan of Tony Jaa, you’ll understand: They were the culinary equivalent of Ong Bak 2 and Ong Bak 3.
But like a Tony Jaa flying elbow to the head, both the coconut-milk ice cream with tropical fruits ($5.95) and the black sticky rice with coconut ($4.95) proved refreshingly jolting – the former with a jackfruit/lychee/palm-seed/water-chestnut medley and the latter with a heavenly palm-sugar caramel and coconut cream sauce.
But neither was jolting enough to obscure the reality of this city’s affinity for the same old, same old. No, we’re not a major metropolis, but I think there are enough comparable Thai joints spread about our city to warrant a little diversity. At the very least, they could take a page from local Indian restaurants, whose regional, cultural and religious influences make for some highly specialized menus.