After an intial lead from a coworker and a couple of mentions from our small but dedicated local hounds (glazebrookgirl and sillyrabbit?) I was able to finagle two other CH-type couples that we pack around with to pay this place a visit. It happened by pure luck, the first choice had been Sweet Ginger (our close by, always reliable Thai pick) but they were closed until Aug. 21 due to a family emergency. Our social coordinator called me in a panic saying she'd tried to get hold of Lemon Tree but couldn't find a listed number (since discovered they've gone belly up). Being a Tuesday night it was not looking good until I called TRO, no problem.
Arriving at our time of 6:30 we were seated immediately and began looking at the huge menu (this is usually a red flag for me). Asking our young, very cordial and friendly waitresses about the different dishes wasn't producing the desired results, they tried very hard but may have been overwhelmed by our passion for deliciousness. Shortly the owner appeared and asked the usual basic questions, suggesting we maybe try the "family style" dinner for four but adding a couple of items since we had two more people. It then evolved into the scheme that we could substitute any items on the family style menu (apps, soup, salad, entree) for other ones we found more attractive. I can only assume that overhearing the flurry of comments and questions that followed (is your pad thai on the sweet side, is the chicken and spinach really spicy, etc) he took control and politely asked if we'd mind him putting together a special dinner for us? The hook firmly set in our collective mouths, a resounding YES was the response. At this point we'd already ordered the calamari app (7.50, deep fried squid w/ Thai hot sauce) so the egg rolls (5.95) were included as the app with our "tasting menu". The calamari were tender with a very light crisp batter and the egg rolls fresh tasting with no greasy coating at all. We proceeded to devour the following:
Chicken Mango Salad (6.95), fresh raw mango, peanuts, pork or chicken in lime and chili dressing. Great flavors, perfectly ripe mango.
Beef Salad (7.95), slices of beef, lettuce, tomatoe, lime and chili dressing, nicely done, this was the mildest of all the courses.
Kai Pro Ram (7.95), stir fried chicken with peanut sauce on bed of spinach (Thai spinach if requested and in season), excellent version of one of our favorites.
Phad Pha Nang (7.95), beef, chicken or pork with chili paste and coconut milk (menu says "spicy" and that it's also available with duck). We ate this over rice, great flavors, two of us agreed that we'd have them kick up the heat next time.
Ginger Beef (7.95), fresh ginger and oriental mushrooms, nice zing from the ginger, richly flavored brown sauce.
Prawns Three Flavors (nighly special, didn't catch the price), this was the hands down winner, medium size tasty prawns in a deep brick red sauce flecked with chilis and spices, out of this world. Even after stuffing ourselves we kept spooning more rice on our plates so we could soak up more of this.
Combo Dessert (9.25), a platter with Thai custard, fried banana, mango slices, and coconut ice cream (menu says "or with jackfruit" for 7.75). Each of us had their individual favorite on this one.
For future visits we also made note of the Som Tum (5.95) papaya or carrot salad, lime and chili dressing, and I asked about the whole fish on the specials board, the owner told us their specialty is the boneless Trout with chili and onion sauce. The menu has a listing of about 30 seafood dishes, oysters, prawns, halibut, tilapia, crab all under $10, with only the Triple Taste Tilapia and Lemongrass Tilapia at $10.95.
I brought an '04 Rabl Spiegel Gruner Veltliner that really surprised three of my red winophiles with how well it matched the flavors and spice in the dishes, one friend brought and '03 Flowers Andreen-Gale Pinot Noir which complemented a number of the entrees quite well, and a '99 BV Tapestry just because he feels it has peaked and should be enjoyed as soon as possible. They brought out an ice bucket for the GV, if they charged us a corkage fee it was no more that $10 each. Total pre t/t was $130.
We talked at length with the owner Sutee, and had him bring out the chef, his lovely wife Jerry, so we could meet her as well. Sutee is in the Naval Reserves, serving as a cook for an Air Force Colonel down at Lemoore NAS. He's recently been retrained as a MP and spent 8 months in New Orleans following the hurricane damage. He assured us that if he happens to be gone on duty whenever we come in to just ask for Jerry and she'll take good care of us.
We all left feeling this is the best Thai food in Fresno, if not all of central CA.
Thai Royal Orchid
6735 N. First St. Ste 110 (SW corner at Herndon)