Authentic food at Ocha Thai Smile

Steaming+Dumplings
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Authentic food at Ocha Thai Smile

Steaming Dumplings

Steaming Dumplings

Samantha Fox

Steaming Dumplings

Samantha Fox

Samantha Fox

Steaming Dumplings

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I wouldn’t have guessed that there’s a restaurant of extraordinary quality on this busy stretch of road near I89 in Waterbury. Ocha Thai Smile restaurant is nestled beside and beneath a smoke shop and a tattoo parlor respectively, and outward appearances don’t promise anything spectacular.

 
The inside of the restaurant is just as small as the limited parking would suggest: seven tables, able to seat 16 people at once. Speakers play a plucked string instrument to empty tables. The scent of burnt noodles and coriander greet me. Marilyn Monroe hangs on the wall, out of place amongst pictures of buildings and traditional Thai costumes.

 
The server allows my choice of table, given the vacancy at the moment, and hands the menus out. This is the difficult part. I take more time deciding than it will take for the food to come out, but in that short time waiting for food, I watch the mute television, tuned to a channel in which a man eats ethnic food with chopsticks and makes comments I can’t hear.

 
The steamed dumplings are not the first sign of authenticity in the restaurant, but the first proof. A curved black plate makes the golden dough pop, and the look is accented with a lettuce leaf and some carrot shreds – a surprisingly elegant presentation. The dumplings are still hot. The dough, soft and thin, separates easily in a bite, allowing the mild shrimp and pork flavors to spill into the mouth. The sweet soy sauce is a perfect foil for the delicate dumpling.

 
The next dish is presented before all five dumplings can be eaten. The spicy basil stir fry is served on a white square plate next to a small bowl of white rice, and I’ve asked for mild heat. Bright green scallion for garnish rest on top of a pile of onions, red splashes of bell peppers and minced chicken. The minced chicken captures the sweet teriyaki and slightly spicy flavor well. Large chunks of sweet onion layers outnumber the strips of red bell pepper, leading to an imbalance of sweet to bitter. Both have been cooked well, retaining their crunchiness.

 
The massaman curry with shrimp has a similar presentation, except in bowl form. The bowl is wide and relatively flat; the orange curry, more soup than sauce with the coconut milk base, contrasts nicely with the chopped green scallion in the center; large chunks of carrots and potatoes poke out of the soupy curry like boulders in a shallow pool.

 
The white rice in the separate bowl is satisfyingly spherical, but the best way to enjoy the deep, complex curry flavor is to destroy the sphere and soak the rice in the soup, either one bite at a time or by dumping the rice into the curry bowl. Sweet onions bolster the spice of the dish, which I’ve again asked to be mild. Soft potatoes and carrots add a hearty element. Crunchy peanuts at the bottom of the bowl provide variety to the consistency of the dish. The shrimp is plump and mild.

 
Then dessert: the final touch of a meal. Fried bananas have a crispy dough on the outside and mushy, sweet banana on the inside in a sweet parody of an egg roll. They’re cut in conical shapes, then propped up on a mound of vanilla ice cream with a dollop of whipped cream on top. A beautiful mint leaf sticks directly out of the whipped cream, with honey drizzled on top of it all. The ice cream stands between the creamy texture of usual ice cream and soft serve, indicating that it was homemade.

 
Khaonieow sangkaya is a Thai custard with sweet, sticky rice. The rice is exactly what one would expect: rice, except sticky and slightly sweet. On top of the rice rests the yellow custard, and on the side a mint leaf stands at attention in a small dollop of whipped cream. The custard melts in the mouth, spongy and sweet.

 
Meanwhile, the server checks in regularly and happily, refills drinks and is a general pleasure.
I pay at the counter, where I look up at the shelf above the cash register and admire a fat Buddha lounging between a handful of golden Khon masks while the receipt prints. An appetizer, an entrée and a dessert cost around $20.

 
Ocha Thai Smile restaurant can be found at 1024 Waterbury Stowe Road. Hours are 12 p.m. to 9 p.m. on holidays and weekends, lunch runs from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, and dinner starts Monday through Friday at 4:30 p.m. and closes at 9 p.m. Call (802) 882-8275 for take-out.

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