Family Thai

Apr 10, 2002 at 12:00 am

In 1983 Montree and Somnuk Arpachinda opened Bangkok Cuisine in Sterling Heights, one of the first Thai restaurants in the metro area. The family has since opened three more; the newest is Rexy’s Bangkok Cuisine, owned by son Rapeepat Arpachinda.

Rexy’s is an upscale version of a successful formula. The interior is interesting and elegant. A saltwater fish tank separates a lounge area from the dining room. (The lounge will one day be a bar if the restaurant can get a liquor license.) Bold murals create a unified atmosphere with images of tropical leaves and designs that evoke Thailand. You walk through a series of flamelike stylized arches into the dining room. Painted tabletops repeat similar images and colors, sealed with a thick lacquer.

Thai cuisine is fiery, and blends cooking techniques and ingredients from China, India and Vietnam, and elsewhere. At its best, Thai cooking is complex, combining extremes like hot peppers with sweet sauces, creating harmony from opposites.

For an appetizer, try koong houm pa ($6.50), large shrimp stuffed with minced pork, ensconced in a paper-thin wrapper, then briefly fried. Served with a sugary-sweet plum sauce, this was a lovely beginning. We also tried tow hoo tod ($3.95), a fried tofu served with plum sauce and chopped peanuts. The co-diner commented that the tofu looked like perfectly toasted marshmallows, but the flavor was not as interesting.

Other appetizers include the ever-popular satay, crispy egg rolls and Vietnamese-style fresh rolls.

Two soups are offered: hot and sour, a traditional Chinese soup, and tom yum, a traditional Thai soup that brings together the citrus flavors of lemongrass and lime juice with the sharp edge of chili paste. It comes with chicken or shrimp, straw mushrooms and scallions.

We also tried a salad of shredded apples tossed with toasted coconut, cashews and bits of chicken. Though it is hard to imagine apples in the tropical climate of Thailand, this combination of flavors works well.

With most of the entrées, you can select your protein: chicken, beef, pork or tofu for $9.95; shrimp, scallops or squid for $10.95. Pad Thai is practically the national dish of Thailand, combining rice noodles (about the size of fettuccine), which are sautéed with your choice of protein as well as egg. The noodles are topped with uncooked bean sprouts, green onions and crushed peanuts. It’s a marriage of contrasting textures.

We also tried pad Thai woonsene with thinner, transparent noodles, again accompanied by fresh bean sprouts, scallions and peanuts.

Two dishes feature eggplant. Pad ped, a stir-fry of eggplant, green and red peppers, mushrooms and lots of onions, is served in coconut milk flavored with hot curry. I liked that the vegetables were just barely cooked, though there was not enough eggplant for my taste. Makher has bigger chunks of eggplant in a soy and garlic sauce with fresh basil leaves.

We were less enthusiastic about pla jien, a fillet of catfish, deep-fried and topped with shredded pork, tiny shrimp, water chestnuts and mushrooms in a soy-based sauce. All of the fish entrées feature catfish; ours was overcooked and dry.

For desserts, you can choose from Western favorites such as cheesecake or some very interesting authentic treats.

We tried ro-tee, a variation on the crepe, spread with a sweet milk and rolled up. There is also homemade coconut ice cream, as well as Japanese ice cream flavors such as green tea and red bean. Or try a “bubble drink.” Flavors include lychee, passion fruit, mango, taro, almond and coffee. The “bubbles” are huge beads of tapioca that sit at the bottom of the cup. It is served with an extra wide straw so you can suck up the bubbles. Most interesting.

Somnuk Arpachinda has just published a Thai cookbook designed to simplify this complex cuisine for the home cook. It is available for sale at Rexy’s along with a small selection of hard-to-find ingredients.

Elissa Karg dines for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].