Experience True Thai Culture And Cuisine At Mali Thai Bistro
Behind the nondescript storefront of newly opened Mali Thai Bistro on south 291 Highway awaits an authentic experience of Thailand’s culture.
Owners Nisa and Doug Hoffman spent several years dreaming of, gathering items for and preparing to create a genuine environment and eating experience of Nisa’s homeland.
“We want our customers to feel Thailand when they come in,” says Nisa. “Customers ask if we are the same as Taiwan or China. We are our own country with our own language, our own food, our own culture.”
From the outside, the restaurant looks ordinary, but walk through the dark wood double doors and discover the Hoffman’s modern interpretation of this Asian country. It’s simple and not overdone, and each personally selected detail evokes a sense of a culture unlike ours. On many trips back home, Nisa and Doug selected and shipped back treasures now incorporated into the décor: hand-carved wooden elephants and other ornamentation, watercolor paintings on Sa paper, and even the beautiful faux silk server’s uniforms. Thai music plays quietly in the background, and their plans for the bar area include creating an island-feel reminiscent of the many gorgeous Thai islands, one of which is where Nisa’s family has a restaurant.
Even the name is true Thai: Mali (pronounced mah-LEE) means “jasmine “or “mother, “ and is a tribute to Nisa’s mother, whose fragrant jasmine flowers always flourished in the front of their family’s home.
Nisa’s family owns restaurants in Thailand so she’s been immersed in the business most of her life. She has taken great care to recreate recipes that will provide their guests with a true Thai eating opportunity.
The extraordinarily polite servers make the dining experience a pleasure. Ours brought me and my guest a cup of Thai hot tea (jasmine) to enjoy while we perused the menu, which includes a dozen appetizers and two pages of entrees from which to choose.
We decided to share several classic dishes. For our appetizer, the Mali Thai Roll ($7.95) made a wonderfully fresh start that wasn’t filling. Made of crab meat, cream cheese, cucumber, bean sprouts and carrot wrapped in rice paper, it is served with a fabulous sweet chili sauce and crushed roasted peanuts.
The waitress next brought us Tom Kha Soup ($9.95/pot). Soup never looked so pretty served in an authentic Thai soup pot imported from Thailand, of course. The soup was a delightful flavor combination unlike my Midwestern taste buds are accustomed: a rich coconut milk broth flavored with lemongrass, kaffir limes, fresh chilies, galangal (an Indonesian plant in the ginger family) and sprinkled with cilantro and spring onions.
Of course we had to sample their Pad Thai, the famous rice noodle dish stir fried with meat, egg, bean sprouts, spring onion and cabbage with added tamarind sauce for a tangy aftertaste, served with sliced lemon and ground peanuts. It’s fun to try this dish at a variety of Thai restaurants and compare; this one has the peanuts mixed into the dish, not sprinkled on top. It was delicious.
And another entrée was equally good: the Garlic Shrimp is flash fried and then sautéed in delicious garlic sauce, served over a bed of perfectly steamed vegetables. All the ingredients were incredibly fresh, and the sauce made the perfect finish.
Entrees are offered with a “select a protein” (chicken, pork, beef, tofu or shrimp) option. Lunch prices range from $8.95-$12.95 and dinner $10.95-$18.95. The food is cooked with great care and is not for the hurried customer, but it is definitely worth the wait and meant to be savored. I overheard another customer say as they were leaving, “This is a nice setting, and the food is great. We’ll be back.” I quite agree.
Some would say the real measure of a Thai restaurant is how spicy hot the sauce is made. I confess that my appreciation of Thai food is more for its fresh uniqueness, so I cannot attest to the hotness of the sauce. You’ll have to go try it for yourself.