Readers, I actually Googled “what makes Thai food so good?” Many, many successes, and they agreed that it is the use of contrast: a mixture of “sweet, sour, salty and spicy flavors, creating a symphony of flavors in each dish.” Well, wouldn’t defenders of most cuisines want to claim that they create a symphony of tastes? I searched “what makes British food so good?” No. (And much fewer successes).
I agree with the internet. The best Thai dishes have a lot to offer, that characteristic of complexity that I always look for. In recent years I have tended to downplay Thai food in favor of Vietnamese food, which is much lighter. But I’m winning over again with Thai dishes that can be, well, downright sticky, if you want to be pejorative, or “hearty” or “satisfying” if you don’t want to. Which I don’t.
Take pad thai, the most ordered dish at Royal Oak’s Kacha Thai, according to owner Siri Pipat. Sure, bean sprouts are pretty weightless (calorically, not nutritionally). But they are the topping of a mixture of rice noodles, eggs, peanuts, tofu and the meat of your choice, with a palm sugar sauce. Ethereal it is not. And it felt like comfort food; I loved it, I couldn’t stop choosing even though it was full. The soft, thin noodles take on a vinous vibe.
And that wasn’t even the best dish I tried from an extensive menu.
As for the soups, I should have ordered Tom Yum Doo Dee just for the name. But I ordered boat noodle soup (Tiew Nam Tok) and I don’t regret it. Its description sounds a lot like Vietnamese pho, but with its braised meat and dumplings it is thicker (although it doesn’t feel like a stew at all), richer, saltier and, although I love pho, even more delicious, the most unusual of the dishes we tried. in Kacha Thai.
Tom Kha, also a perennial favorite, did not disappoint either. (Be sure to ask for the newer menu, as the older ones only include Tom Yum.) Coconut cream, lime juice, spicy galangal, chicken broth, chiles: see the variety of flavors, each one contributes its grain of sand. Kacha Thai’s is generous with the chicken and has a beautiful ivory color with golden flecks of liquid fat. An online cook tells of his efforts to make Tom Kha No It tastes like a warm smoothie, which is achieved by cutting the coconut and enhancing the galangal. Kacha may be doing the same.
The curries come with a side of rice, at no additional charge. Massaman is the most filling, with potatoes, and I broke tradition by ordering mine with pork (its origin is Muslim). Most dishes can be eaten with chicken, tofu, beef, or pork, and sometimes shrimp or other seafood is an option. The masamán has a good kick from the tamarind. The red curry, golden in color, is also good, with a prominent coconut profile.
Sticking with the classics, Drunken Noodles are endlessly comforting, with their soft, wide pasta. I don’t prefer dishes that include green peppers due to their lack of flavor, but the abundance here didn’t affect the dish and the licorice flavor of the Thai basil stood out. I had always assumed that Drunken Noodles got their name from their wine flavor, but it turns out that it’s because they are best consumed alongside a cold beer. (There is still no liquor license here.)
I found the Kacha fried rice more ordinary, although other diners praised it. It comes in garlic and pineapple versions and with any meat seasoning. My least favorite was the Moo Ping appetizer, pork skewers with a spicy sauce that didn’t work for me, despite the cilantro. Other appetizers include satay, spring rolls, crab Rangoon, fried tofu, wings, pork rinds, and pork rinds.
Kacha offers several versions of papaya salad, but I tried the apple salad and found it refreshing among the richer main dishes. Granny Smith slices, cashews, and red onion retain their crunch in a vinegar dressing. Other “salads” are more like cold main dishes, mainly meat.
To drink, since there is no beer, you can try the longan soft drink, made with that Southeast Asian fruit. I thought the result was like a very sweet Coca Cola, with grape-like balls floating in the liquid. Bubble tea and iced coffee are also offered.
Open since July, Kacha Thai is a medium-sized room with wooden tables, Thai tapestries and very friendly waiters. He Detroit News chose Kacha for its list of the best new restaurants in 2023. You can try their menu at an all-you-can-eat buffet event from noon to 9 p.m. on Sunday, February 4, with a live Thai musical performance from 7 to 9 p.m. ; the cost is $24.95.
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