Editor’s note: The following is part of a food and dining series featuring places in Richland County.
When Asian Garden was suggested to me, I was hesitant to try it for two reasons.
First, I am wary of pan-Asian restaurants. If it doesn’t specify exactly what kind of Asian food it is, whether it’s Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese, Thai or Chinese, then I usually skip over it. In my experience, pan-Asian restaurants are mediocre at cooking several kinds of Asian cuisines, instead of mastering one.
Second, as a woman with some Asian roots and a slight snobbiness for authenticity, I assumed anyone in eastern Montana couldn’t possibly know how to cook Asian food well.
Boy, was I proven wrong.
The chefs at Asian Garden are all from Thailand, and when it comes to Thai food, they know what they’re doing.
There is a take-out counter right next to the door for customers picking up food.
In the sitting area, there is a choice between booths and tables. The booths are comfortable and clean. A few of them face the window, where you get a street view of the mall in Sidney.
The decor includes exotic images of Thailand and embroidered, golden elephants.
The menu consists of appetizers, noodle dishes, stir fries, Thai coconut curries and soups.
Appetizers are standards in any Asian American restaurant, particularly egg rolls and shrimp tempura, which is battered, deep fried shrimp with sweet and sour dipping sauce.
After finding out that the chefs were Thai, I ended up trying mostly Thai food.
Chicken Pad Thai ($9.99) is thin rice noodles stir fried with eggs, bean sprouts, onions and Pad Thai sauce. Pad Thai sauce is made from tamarind, an exotic fruit not commercially grown in the United States. I ordered it to go for lunch one day and it is very satisfying in flavor and portions, which were generous. This dish is not spicy.
My favorite dish was what Asian Garden calls Chicken Spicy Soup with Coconut, otherwise known as Tom Kaa Gai. If you decide to dine in, this soup is great for sharing with a group since it comes in a metal serving bowl with a fire lit beneath it at your table. This soup is not creamy, but not brothy either. I would call it milky. It’s a blend of coconut milk and spices, black straw mushrooms, lime juice, tomato, kefir lime leaf, lemongrass and Thai chili.
That, my friends, is what Thai food is all about. A true Thai curry or soup dish is a mix of flavors to titillate your tasting palette. Chili for spiciness, lime for sourness, fish sauce for saltiness, a dash of sugar for sweetness, and coconut milk to blend it all together for one foodgasmic ride.
I also tried some curries. There is the standard red curry, which can come with chicken or pork ($9.99), beef ($10.99), or shrimp ($11.99). The red curry is also coconut milk based and has bell peppers, carrots, and chunks of zucchini. Asian Garden does a good job of not over cooking their vegetables.
My server asked me what level of spiciness I wanted the curry, and I went with medium which wasn’t too spicy by my standards.
A dish called Dan’s Curry (with chicken $9.99) is named after one of the owners, Dan Danielson. The other owner is Sangchan Nasompong, who is native to Thailand.
Dan’s Curry consists of red or yellow curry mixed with Thai peanut sauce, pineapple chunks, and your meat of choice. “[The peanut sauce] kind of cuts the curry so it’s not really strong,” Danielson said.
I’d recommend this dish and Pad Thai for someone wanting to try Thai food for the first time without eating something too spicy.
Another recommendation I’d have is to take a look at their drink selection. They’ve got Thai Iced Tea with cream ($2.75) and Thai Coffee with cream ($2.75). I tried their Thai Iced Tea, which they make pretty sweet. It’s how Thai Iced Tea should be — orange with cream splashed on top.
The lunch buffet is from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday to Friday.
A typical buffet includes more of their Chinese options, such as Broccoli Chicken or Beef, Chow Mein Noodles, Fried Rice, Ginger Pork, Kung Pao chicken, and Sweet and Sour chicken. It is $8.99 a person.
The servers are dutiful about filling waters and clearing plates. They aren’t pesky about pressing specials and tend to leave you alone to enjoy your food in peace.
This is the best place for Thai food within a 60-mile (or more) radius. With real Thai chefs and exotic ingredients hauled from foreign lands, the food at Asian Garden is worth every penny.
Additionally, owners Danielson and Nasompong have plans to expand the restaurant by early next year.
They would like to add a second kitchen and introduce some Western food, possibly including a breakfast buffet.
Are you interesting in food and dining in Richland County? Whether you’ve got a favorite restaurant or enjoy making delicious meals with veggies from your garden, we’d love to hear about it! Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call Susan at 433-2403.