By Mark Evangelista
For Orasinee Ratanaarporn, the road to opening her first restaurant was longer than her name, that was in March 1983.
Now 32 years later, she and her husband Pat have numerous Thai Spice Noodle and Sushi House eateries to lure devotees of the cuisine of her native country and welcome newbies with soul-pleasing twists on familiar Thai dishes.
“My husband, he has always loved my food,” Orasinee said. “He said we should give the (first) restaurant a try. If we succeed, we work there. If not, we go to New York and become waiters.”
The Ratanaarporns never had to worry about moving away. And with she and her husband back at the helm at the Clear Lake location, they have created a new home for Bay Area foodies.
Thai Spice has eight locations scattered throughout the Houston area. The first Thai Spice opened in 1995 and remains in the Rice Village (5117 Kelvin Drive in Houston); other locations include Bellaire, Pearland, downtown Houston, the Heights, Katy and Westheimer.
The freshly updated restaurant at 300 W. Bay Area Blvd. in Webster is modern, yet cozy. After taking over from the previous franchisee, the Ratanaarporns ripped out the walls down to the studs from floor to ceiling throughout and rebuilt it anew. Along with new management, new walls and even new ceilings this all makes for a brighter ambiance fitting for a grand opening.
Besides the clean design and modern tables and chairs, charming wall coverings spotlight the staples of their offerings such as rice and noodles.
With the physical makeover, came a menu makeover that you can not only taste, but truly enjoy.
Even the drinks showcase how much change has taken place, starting with the young coconut and the Jamaica.
Their young coconut drink with pulp is easily more thirst quenching than any sports drink.
Served in a hurricane glass, for some folks, this refreshing concoction could invoke flashbacks of traveling to Southeast Asia. While there is no man with a machete carving out an opening in a green-husked coconut, this drink could easily become a go-to drink for summer – or anytime of year around here!
Another wet-worthy companion to the aromatic fare at Thai Spice is the Jamaica tea. Steeped with hibiscus leaves and blended with a sugar syrup, this could be a dually delectable beverage. Straight up, guests will be enjoying a flower in liquid form; mixed with rum (which guests can bring to the establishment with the BYOB policy), this becomes a ticket to paradise.
Good food should follow good refreshments, right? In this case, the transition is seamless.
A good start is the Angel Wings, a crispy, savory serving of chicken wings. No servers in orange will serve you a better order of wings. Tomato sauce, red onion, hoisin sauce, sugar, garlic and oyster sauce envelop these lucky chicken pieces and transform them a mandatory start to the meal. The tenets of Thai cuisine – sweet, spicy, sour, bitter and salty – will be having a dance party on your palate. Find traditional sushi dishes here providing the comfort that people crave. But for those eager for culinary adventure, the sushi chef offers a dish that at first confounds and then wows: Jalapeños stuffed with cream cheese and then wrapped in salmon and tuna, rolled in panko bread crumbs and then flash fried.
The rest of the revamped menu is solid with such dishes as the life-affirming yellow curry and coconut ice cream with sweet rice. The ice cream works as an extinguisher to the fantastic curries. Remember that the curries can be tailored to your taste buds and tolerance for heat.
The discovery of one incendiary condiment may be worthy of a pilgrimage by chiliheads. The chili fish sauce, known as prik nam pla, is made with imported peppers from Thailand and fish sauce. For those who enjoy that strange mix of pleasure and pain, this is fifty shades of taste.
Even if you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen and order some food to go. On a recent early evening, the restaurant did a brisk business of take-away for office workers on the way home.
A gathering of young professionals with lanyards and company ID cards filled the dining room with lively conversation and laughter. With the BYOB policy, a quick stop for crowd-pleasing beverages makes for more “team-building.” (Thai Spice does not charge corkage fees, by the way.)
While the flavors are complex, the simple decision to eat here is made easier with value and accessible pricing. Items such as sushi and ramen start at under $10, making for a better experience than lunch at your desk. Generous party trays ordered in advance could make you employee of the month.
In summary, this place could be all things to all people – hungry ones, of course.