Thai Farm Kitchen brings its Siamese fare from Brooklyn to College Park and sets itself apart from the pack

Brooklyn bridge

Thai Farm Kitchen brings its Siamese fare from Brooklyn to College Park and sets itself apart from the pack
Photo by Rob Bartlett

Thai Farm Kitchen rode into town on the coattails of a pretty solid credential — a "best bite" designation in 2019 by none other than the New York Times. The College Park outpost of the buzzy Brooklyn resto was to bring credibility to the neighborhood's underwhelming restaurant scene and take a bit of the sting out of RusTeak's furtive escape to South Eola. But when we asked servers about that "best bite," no one seemed to know what it was. Nor did they bother to find out.

A little digging on nytimes.com revealed it to be kao thod nhaem klook — a fried crispy rice ball made from red curry paste, grated coconut, Isan sausage, makrut lime leaves and peanuts. Sounds wonderful, but it's nowhere to be seen on the Orlando menu. Perhaps owners Jess Calvo and his wife, Elizabeth, who also serves as TFK's chef, think the palates of College Park restaurant-goers are too staid for such a dish? On a strip teeming with pizza and Italian joints, I wouldn't blame them. Maybe they'd rather the College Park eatery be established for its own gastronomic merits. Either way, it seems like a lost marketing opportunity.

click to enlarge PHOTO BY ROB BARTLETT
Photo by Rob Bartlett

There are fried fish cakes ($9) fashioned from fermented fish and chili paste that are quite nice when eaten within five minutes of being served, but I'm not sure they're making any "best bites" list. Plus, if you wait too long before eating them, they turn into spongy pucks. No, the laab with duck confit ($15) would make a far better signature dish. I relished the crackle of duck skin and every bracing bite of the beautifully plated salad garnished with pea shoots on my first visit here, just a couple of weeks after TFK's opening. Yet the last time I sat inside the restaurant's Indochined dining room, the dish's aesthetics took a back seat to a heavy flurry of toasted rice.

On the subject of rice, undercooked grains didn't help the pineapple chicken fried rice ($18.95) any, even when served inside a hollowed-out pineapple shell topped with two grilled shrimp. Pretty? Perhaps. But the rice needs work. Even the jasmine rice served with curry dishes was dry. Hey, the grain has been the bane of many a Top Chef booted from the show for not cooking it properly. So, with the green curry ($14) ordered on my first visit, we opted to scoop the spiced liquid with shreds of roti ($3.25). And, no, the roti isn't made in-house. Rather, it's the same roti that can be found at every other Thai and Malaysian joint in town, or in the freezer sections of any Indian grocery store.

The sweeter panang curry ($14) ordered on my last visit was runnier than expected. It was also devoid of chicken (they neglected to add the protein to the dish). Another server-touted item was the phad kee mao, chewy drunken noodles we ordered with soft shell crab ($20.95). Only we were served just a plate of soft-shell crab, no noodles. It took another 10 minutes for the correct order to come out, though when it did, we thoroughly enjoyed it, the crab in particular.

Servers are hospitable, apologetic and willing to correct any gaffes but, honestly, I'd rather they be more informed about the menu. We were curious about "vegan deep-fried chives" ($9) — were skinny green stalks being battered and fried? Seemed a bit odd, but our server didn't know any more than we did. What we ended up getting were Chinese-style, pan-fried chive dumplings served with a sweet soy sauce. The happy news is they're absolutely worth ordering, as are the shumai-like minced chicken dumplings ($9) filled with egg, scallion and water chestnuts.

There's no faulting the rice in the mango sticky rice ($13.95). It's cooked with butterfly pea-flower tea, lending the dessert a purplish hue and lending our meal a colorful ending. What I really like about Thai Farm Kitchen is that it diversifies College Park's dining options and makes an effort to set itself apart from other Thai neighborhood restaurants, which is key. Effort, after all, is a crucial ingredient in the recipe for success.

click to enlarge PHOTO BY ROB BARTLETT
Photo by Rob Bartlett

THAI FARM KITCHEN: 2625 Edgewater Drive, 407-412-5239, thaifarmkitchen.com, $$$



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