The About page on Thai Farm Kitchen Orlando’s Facebook page describes the new College Park restaurant as having, “Award winning authentic Thai food from Thailand and the New York Times.” Sort of conjures up images of someone from the paper’s Food staff cooking up a batch of laab khai jiaw in the test kitchen to send out to Brooklyn.
Brooklyn is where the original Thai Farm Kitchen is, and the Times mention is apparently a reference to a review by Ligaya Mishan in 2019 in the paper’s Hungry City column. Mishan, who now writes for the Eats column in the New York Times Magazine, named the Kensington neighborhood restaurant an NYT Critic’s Pick.
Perhaps New York doesn’t have as many fine Thai restaurants as we do here in Central Florida. Ot maybe it’s the same old story of out-of-state restaurants moving to Orlando and figuring they don’t have to try too hard to impress. I could be wrong, but consider this: The back page of the College Park menu has a four-step process on “How to enjoy phad Thai correctly”; I could find no such instructions in any of the dozens of online photos of the Brooklyn menu. Because, you know, New Yorkers are born with the necessary knowledge to eat any kind of food.
Actually, I wasn’t offended by the instructions on the Orlando menu. I’m sure some will find them helpful, and it’s always nice to have a refresher course or validation that you’re doing it right. Pad (phad) Thai is often one of my go-to dishes when reviewing a Thai restaurant. It’s such a ubiquitous dish that it can serve as a benchmark.
That said, I had decided on my way to the restaurant that I would order something else this time. But once I saw the amount of space dedicated to this putative National Dish of Thailand, I figured I had to have.
Curiously, despite the instructions, which admonish the diner to add such things as crushed chilies and peanuts and such, a condiment tray was not offered until I requested it. But as it turned out, the dish already had more than it needed. The plate of rice noodles was tossed with miniature logs of tofu and scrambled eggs and had an ample amount of peanuts on top, along with a handful of bean sprouts and a decorative flower. A squeeze of lime helped to offset the sauce, which was on the sweeter side. As pads Thai go, it was fine.
Much better was the dish my companion requested, the Phad Krapow, which should be pronounced carefully when ordering. It featured big hunks of red and green bell pepper stir fried with basil and onions and seasoned with a bit of chili powder. (It was ordered medium hot and had a nice little spiciness without being predominant.) It was accompanied by a fried egg on the side whose yolk had unfortunately set, but it still made a nice presentation and was delicious when served over the accompanying jasmine rice.
We had started with the combo appetizer platter, which included crab Rangoon, chicken satay, chicken dumplings and shrimp rolls, all accompanied by various sauces. The dumplings were best, nice and firm purses with the ground chicken tucked inside. Crab Rangoon was creamier than it was crabby and the shrimp were rolled into impossibly thin cigarellos with their tails sticking out.
Attentiveness is not a forte here, and some staffers were positively lackadaisical. (A few of us waited at the host stand while a young man took a very slow phone order, finishing up by confirming that the caller knew it was the Orlando restaurant that was called and not the one in Brooklyn.)
Thai Farm moved into the space that had been RusTeak. There is an enclosed, windowed room at the front that looks like it’s meant to be a private dining room (a half-lowered screen cries pharmaceutical luncheons), but it’s unkempt and seemed to be used for a staff break room. Speaking of staff, a two-percent “kitchen staff appreciation fee” is added to each bill. We’ll save the argument about paying restaurant workers a decent wage for another time, but for now I’ll just say that I find it odd that this fee is added pretax.
Jess Calvo, who owns the restaurants with his wife, Elizabeth, who is also the chef, was present in the dining room and stopped by tables to greet guests. At least he stopped by mine.
But let me mention something else I saw when researching the Brooklyn restaurant. The Calvos posted on Thai Farm’s Twitter page in March 2020 that it would offer free lunches to the elderly and handicapped who were being affected in those early days of Covid shutdowns, “free delivery, no tips needed.” That’s a generous thing to do. Just the sort of neighbors you’d like to have move in. So let me just say, welcome to Orlando, Thai Farm Kitchen.