Northern Michigan Restaurants: Take an international journey right here in Northern Michigan and check out these Up North eateries serving up inspired flavors from around the world.
The ecstatically perfumed broths of coconut milk curries welcome you to Petoskey’s Thai Orchid. Orchid idolatry and brightly embroidered tapestries hang from the deep purple walls, which enhance the bright accents of yellow bell pepper and Chinese broccoli peeking out from silvery nests of rice noodles. No amount of edible eye candy however can compare to the olfactory pleasure drawn from the sharp citrus oil of kaffir lime leaves, the fragrant sweetness of holy basil, and the sea-brine pungency of fish sauce. All are staple ingredients that pervade signature dishes like Pa-Nang, Curry Walleye and proprietary Pad Thai Curry. Chef and owner Thomas Vangyi and his nimble crew move like culinary octopi over a crowded landscape of sizzling woks and simmering saucepans, adding ginger here and red chili paste there as each dish is prepared to order. Read on as this month we find the flavors of Phuket and Peru right here in the North with internationally inspired dining destinations. 433 East Mitchell Street, Petoskey, MI 49770, 231.487.9900
Indulge the carb-centric comforts of traditional Polish cuisine at this hearty oasis of Eastern European eats outside Harbor Springs. Tuck into homemade kielbasa and pierogi, a fragrant bowl of bigos (smoked pork and sauerkraut stew), and finish with sweet crepes or Polish apple cake. 8418 M-119, Harbor Springs 231.838.5377
The Homestead Chef John Piombo executes exciting Northern Italian fare in some of the North’s most scenic environs. Sample creative small plates like duck prosciutto with lentil salad or roasted brussels sprouts with hazelnuts and balsamic glaze along with housemade pastas and seasonal entrees like olive-oil poached salmon with salsa verde and giardiniera. Reasonably priced Italian and international vino. 1 Wood Ridge Road, Glen Arbor, 231.334.5000
Front Street’s hip pan-Asian pleasure dome, Red Ginger delivers legit sushi and big-city style in equal measure. Go purist with mind-bending white tuna sashimi, or try one of Ginger’s ornate proprietary rolls, like the Lobster Tempura with eel sauce. Sip a sexy sake or lemongrass-infused cocktail, or dive into the contemporary wine list. 237 East Front Street, Traverse City 231.944.1733
Red Mesa Grill
A delicious convergence of Latin cuisines from Central America, the Caribbean and South America, Red Mesa rocks Peruvian ‘armadillo eggs,’ Cuban black bean cakes, empanadas and masa-dusted whitefish with a high-energy vibe. Enjoy the North’s most extensive tequila collection, or tackle one of Red Mesa’s cultish sour cherry margaritas. 1544 U.S. 31 North, Traverse City 231.938.2773
Meet Thomas Vangyi, Chef/Owner of Thai Orchid, Petoskey
Born in Laos, Thomas Vangyi and his family fled to the Issan area of Northern Thailand during the Vietnam War before making their way to California in the late 1970s. Thomas, his wife, Sue, and daughter, Jennifer, fell in love with Northern Michigan on a trip to visit family and opened Thai Orchid in Petoskey in the fall of 2007. We sit down with Thomas to talk about the essential flavors of Thailand and get some tips on DIY Thai curry.
What is the basic philosophy of Thai cooking?
Thai food is built around a balance of sweet, sour, salty, creamy and spicy flavors; all of our ingredients are used to create this harmony.
And those ingredients are?
Sweetness from sugar and Thai basil, sourness from kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass and lime juice, saltiness from fish sauce, creaminess from coconut milk and spiciness from galangal, chilies and curry paste. We source all of our fresh ingredients, but the curry pastes come directly from Thailand.
Any tips for those of us wanting to re-create some Thai Orchid magic in our own kitchens?
Find a recipe for a traditional Thai coconut curry. Curry is the fundamental basis for Thai cuisine, and if you master this basic technique everything else is a simple variation. Curry pastes, coconut milk and fish sauce are available in many grocery stores. I like to build the sweetness of the dish first and then balance it with fish sauce and lime juice.