All hail the pristine beauty of the lunch special done right. Then again, with Thai done right, very little can go wrong.
A friend and I recently stopped by the Exotic Thai Café during lunch hour, when the only impediment between us and a fine Thai meal was the massively packed parking lot filled with lots of other people who, ostensibly, had the very same idea.
Once we made our way through the lot and the doors of the clean, quiet and refreshingly spacious cafe, we were seated instantly by a member of the attentive wait staff. The extensive menu offered appetizers, soups, exotic seafood entrees, noodles, salads, curries, à la carte items and a selection of rice dishes. There was also a handy lunch-special menu that assigned specific low-priced dishes to specific days of the week.
We ordered the tom yum gai, a hot and sour chicken soup with mushrooms, to split as an appetizer, while I opted for the cashew chicken — the Wednesday lunch special — and chose mixed vegetables from among a list of available side dishes. Saundra chose the spicy eggplant with chicken, chili and sweet basil.
The tom yum gai, with a coconut milk base, was rich, flavorful and spicy. The chicken — the restaurant uses only white meat — was tender and the spices, while definitely present, were not overpowering. The small portion was large enough for us to share, and the satisfying blend of flavors made the starter a real treat.
My cashew chicken, served almost as quickly as the soup, arrived on a serving platter with the side of mixed vegetables and a separate bowl of white rice. Though the cashew chicken didn’t reinvent the wheel as far as the old classic is concerned, it was as good as any very good cashew chicken I have ever eaten. The chicken was cooked perfectly, the cashews were a slightly crunchy addition, and the accompanying mixed vegetables made me feel like I was diving into a healthy midday meal.
Saundra’s spicy eggplant and chicken dish, also served with white rice, was surprisingly spicy (hence the name), but the kick didn’t overpower the subtle eggplant flavors. Likewise, the chicken was spicy and flavorful in a way unique enough to set it apart. All portion sizes were generous, which meant there were enough leftovers for a second Thai lunch the very next day.
The service was fast and efficient, which meant there wasn’t much conversation between us and our very friendly waiter — though he definitely fulfilled all of our needs and was pleasant in the process. The setting and delicious meal provided us the luxury of getting lost in conversation and the food on our plates, and it doesn’t get much better than that.
With an extensive menu, healthy choices and a tranquil setting, Exotic Thai is a genuinely satisfying respite from the workaday world. n