If you're like me, the toughest part about dining out can be choosing what to eat. Mapping out a winning meal can be a decision-making challenge, with an internal monologue going something like this: "If I get this appetizer, will it work with that entrée? Shall I try something different or go with what I know is good? What wine works with all this?" It's like piecing together a culinary puzzle.
Unless it's dim sum or tapas, where the meal is all about options, I have to place my bets and order something. Most of the time, things do work out. But a bad choice that leads to a disappointing meal is usually accompanied — at least in my food world — by a self-flogging regret similar to that from picking the slowest checkout or ending up in the why-is-everyone-else-moving lane in traffic. Except that it's not as easily forgotten. Peer for a moment into my mental archive of sub-optimized meals: "I should have ordered the soft-shelled crab ... your lamb was much better than my magret de canard ... the pizza at that little place in Roma just wasn't as good the second time around." Ah, diner's remorse.
I've reached the conclusion, though, that it just doesn't have to be this way. For me, the days of having to choose one single dish are over — particularly at reasonably priced restaurants where it's possible to order profusely and not spend a lot. Now I deliberately order too much food and encourage my dining partners to do the same, knowing there is absolutely no way to eat it all, and already anticipating bringing home leftovers for tomorrow's lunch or dinner. Digging in, sampling this and that, comparing tastes and flavors, make it feel more like a tasting meal — a flight of dishes. And it's such a satisfying feeling watching the plates pile up. Ah, the sweet taste of freedom.
After all, why are holiday meals — just a handful out of a year's worth — so enjoyable? Certainly being with family, the time of year and the holiday itself are big factors. But a large component is the groaning table, the plethora of dishes. It's that the food on those special days becomes a feast.
This was how I ate at Arloi Dee Thai Bistro in Mason on a recent Saturday night, when some companions and I had an absolutely splendid time eating our fill at this award-winning local favorite. The restaurant serves Thai, Chinese and other Asian cuisine, including sushi. Arloi Dee, which means something like "very delicious" in Thai, has been in Mason for about three years after spending seven years in Downtown Cincinnati.
We started with Chicken Sate ($3.95), chicken skewers marinated in herbs and coconut milk, served with a thick peanut sauce. They were tender and flavorful. Seaweed Salad ($4.95), finely sliced threads of seaweed in a dressing, was light and refreshing. Tom Kha ($3.95), a coconut lemongrass soup made with lime juice was mellow and rich (it comes in chicken, shrimp and seafood versions). Steamed Veggie Potstickers ($3.95) were less appealing; the wrappers broke apart and the filling was on the bland side.
We really cut loose when ordering entrées — ending up with five plates for three people. The Thai Green Beans ($7.95), green beans stir-fried in a tasty sauce, were light and delicious. Szechuan Chicken ($10.95) was masterfully executed, stir-fried with bamboo shoots and other vegetables in a brown sauce. Chicken Curry ($11.95) was exceptional: tender chicken with vegetables in a rich, hot sauce of red curry and coconut milk.
Pad Thai ($10.95), a combination of rice noodles, shrimp, egg and peanuts, is a litmus test for Thai restaurants; poorly done it can be horridly sweet and cloying. Not at Arloi Dee. A masterful balance of savory and sweet, this was exceptional. Last was Crazy Noodle ($10.95). Chewy wide rice noodles and chicken with mushrooms, sweet basil and jalapeno chunks in a succulent and fiery sauce made for a fantastic dish. One of my dining companions, a pregnant sibling on a reluctant sabbatical from spicy foods speared a taste and declared, "After the baby, I am definitely coming back here to eat that."
Believe it or not, we found room for dessert. The Thai Custard ($3.95) is a smooth, dreamy cross between flan, bread pudding and coconut cream. It is simply outstanding. We also tried the Fried Banana ($3.95), which sounded more appealing than it actually was. Bananas wrapped in rice paper, fried and drizzled with honey turned out to be stuffed largely with shredded coconut, and not much banana.
Service was welcoming. We had a young server, relatively new, so there was some room for improvement, particularly around familiarity with the menu. Pictures made it easy to order.
After dinner my well-fed sister proclaimed, "That was a feast!" I agreed. If you want delicious, fresh, authentic Thai food, head to Arloi Dee. If you want to make it really memorable, order with complete and total abandon. ©
Arloi Dee Thai Bistro
Go: 4920 Socialville-Foster Road, Mason
Hours: 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Friday; Dinner: 5-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 5-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday.
Prices: Reasonable to Moderate
Payment: Major credit cards
Red Meat Alternatives: Vegetable, chicken and fish options abound