POMONA - Many food snobs look down their noses at strip-mall restaurants. The reality is that many different cuisines can peacefully coexist side by side ... by side. And what emerges from that international culinary truce is plenty of choices for hungry dinners.
Orchids Cafe here offers a Thai/Continental menu guaranteed to allow every member of your dining party the chance to choose something to his or her liking.
Maybe it was the wrong season but the night we visited, the orchids consisted mostly of photographs scattered around the dining room or faux versions resting on etageres.
Mismatched tables, assorted wooden chairs and differing floral-print tablecloths gave the room the comfortable feel of a grandmother's dining room rather than a chic, glossy place to dine out. We felt right at home.
A bowl of tom ka shrimp soup ($3.50) was a balanced mix of lemony tasting broth with coconut cream, mushrooms and a rhizome similar to ginger called galangal. We would be hard pressed to recognize the difference between the two. Satay chicken ($4.95) was composed of thin strips of herb-marinated white-meat chicken topped with a creamy peanut sauce served over a cucumber-and-romaine-lettuce salad.
Beef Namtok ($4.95) was smoky slices of charbroiled beef tossed with pieces of red bell pepper, sliced scallions, red onion and cilantro then served over slices of carrot and cucumber with shredded cabbage. The menu describes the dressing as lemon-pepper flavored.
Entrees consisted of a green curry ($13.95) made with our choice of the leg portion of lamb in a coconut cream seasoned with young green chilies and herbs, along with an assortment of vegetables including green squash, yellow zucchini and green peas. Fragrant Jasmine rice is served on the side.
We had to sample what many consider to be one of the national dishes of Thailand. Called Pad Thai ($9.95), this version was made with whole shrimp and ground nuts. This was a drier version consisting of tamarind, fish sauce and a sweet note, barely coating some rice sticks, a kind of fettuccine-sized clear noodle bound together with the help of a whole egg.
More shredded cabbage was included on the plate and a spoonful of ground white pepper allowed us to adjust the heat level to our own taste. All dishes are offered with the choice of mild, medium or spicy heat.
The menu lists all desserts as being homemade and mostly reflected the continental side of the choices. We liked the poached-pear Burgundy ($3.50), a classic red-wine-and-cinnamon-poached fresh pear floating in a sea of creme Anglaise, a rich pouring custard. Coconut-cream-laced sweet rice ($3.50) was an interesting Thai version of rice pudding, sticky but not rich or very moist. We offset the lack of cream with a scoop of coconut ice cream in its stead.
Since each dish is prepared to order personally by the mysterious owner/chef, identified only as PS on the menu, it probably accounts for the large stretches of time spent waiting between each course. Good food is worth the wait.
A complete dinner special was offered on a blackboard menu including soup or salad, an entree and a dessert for a set price of $9.95.
The continental part of the regular menu offers plenty of seafood choices just as the Thai offerings do. Duck and rack of lamb are also available for the meat eaters in your party.
Our server was quiet but efficient, dressing professionally all in black - more reminiscent of an Italian grandmother than Thai. The colorful plates will have to do. Orchids Cafe is still a cozy room with comfortable prices.
(C.C. Hoyt is the pseudonym of a southern New Jersey food writer. Write to Hoyt c/o Food Editor James Clark at firstname.lastname@example.org. Restaurant-ratings guide: 4 stars, extraordinary; 3 stars, excellent; 2 stars, good; 1 star, fair; 0 stars, poor.)
White Horse Pike
Hours: Dinners daily from 5 p.m. Closed Sunday.
Liquor license: BYO
Credit cards: Most major
Disabled access: Yes
Price range: Appetizers $4.95 to $5.95, entrees $8.95 to $16.95
Our bill for two: $49 plus tip