Whenever Mother Nature piles any amount of snow on top of us, sometimes the easiest escape is the dinner table -- from comfort food to foreign fare. While Fort Wayne has no shortage of restaurants, Spice & Herb Thai Cuisine seemed a welcome oasis amidst the elements. Something spicy to feel the heat, with a hint of the exotic. As we walked in I was struck with the colorful and bright Thai decor, from silk scarves on tables to the tourism posters on the walls, even the smell (hints of lemon grass and basil) brought back memories of my time in Thailand.
Immediately we were greeted and seated with a friendly smile, and I was reminded how much I like Thai people, arguably the friendliest of all Asians. The owner and head chef, Nattana Scherer came out of the kitchen to welcome us herself. Still slightly skeptical as to the authenticity of the cuisine, Nattana immediately set my mind at ease. Her mother was Chinese and her father Thai, she offered, going on to explain the variation in their styles of cooking and how she strictly adhered to the Thai side, having grown up in Bangkok. (The exception to the rule being the crab rangoon, a Chinese American appetizer, recently taken up in more and more Thai restaurants.)
Nattana grew up around food, assisting at her mother's restaurant in Thailand. Now a US citizen, she moved to the United States over 14 years ago and took classes to become a professional chef in food design. Along with her husband, Timothy Scherer, they opened the restaurant in October 2011. It is clear Nattana enjoys welcoming her customers, and as we waited for our food, another man sat down at the table next to us and made small talk. It was his, as well as our, first time at Spice & Herb.
"My friend told me about this place. Said it was the best Thai in town, and that the owner would come and talk to me," he told us.
She did, and if we had not known better, we would have sworn that he was a regular.
"I like to treat my customers like my family," Nattana told us with a large smile. After we explained what we were up to, she gave us a tour of her spotless kitchen and allowed us to take her picture. The whole restaurant was strickingly immaculate, including the bathrooms. "Everything covered and cleaned at night! That's my rule!" she told, us pointing to orderly stacks of kitchen odds and ends.
We watched her put the finishing touches on a green apple swan. Pictures of her fruit carvings can be seen under glass on the tables, and from a newspaper clipping framed in the foray. It seems to be her specialty, another lovely touch to many of the dishes served (carrot flowers accompanied several entrées).
Our meals were promptly preceded by fresh spring rolls filled with cabbage and carrot along with garlic chicken and rice soup with tofu and sliced green onions. I was pleasantly surprised with the power packed flavor punch in such an unassuming soup, and tickled at the bite size perfection of the roll doused in sweet sticky sauce.
Eating fresh fried rice out of a grilled half pineapple on the beach in Thailand is hard to beat, and I struggled to appreciate this one as much as ones I've had in the past, although my friend was especially taken with the bright presentation. A perfect pick-me-up to any cold wintry day the specialty fried rice features pineapples, cashews, garlic, curry powder, green onion with a choice of meat. Evocative of warmer shores, a small, pink umbrella accompanied the far out taste.
My personal favorite, and main driving force behind our mission that day: Pad Thai. A popular favorite all around, some Pad Thai's are better than others. This one was everything it promised. Stir-fried traditional Thai rice noodles, meat (we chose chicken, again) with egg, garlic, bean sprouts, green onion, and tofu in the "famous Thai sauce" served with ground peanuts, julienned carrots, and two kinds of cabbage.
Spice level for each dish can be chosen according to a sliding chili scale from mild, medium, hot or Thai hot. Alcohol is available to help wash away the heat, including Thai beer and white wine. Thai ice tea and coffee, along with coconut juice are offered as well.
Having checked up on the place before we ventured there, the description of the green curry stuck in my mind, "a complex flavor of sweetness, coconut, fish sauce, curry, and delicious vegetables," including baby eggplants. Sold. Initially, I planned to order this classic favorite, but we didn't want to incapacitate ourselves for the rest of the afternoon. Fortunately, our new friend next to us ordered the red curry and gave us an excuse to take a few more behind the scene photos.
She graciously gave us a discount, even so, I was slightly surprised at the prices. After 7 years in Asia, you get used to eating delicious and cheap traditional cuisine, straight from the souce. However, the ingredients are all fresh, serving portions generous, and the food was distinctly healthy (akin to Loving Cafe); not drenched in oil like some Asian fast food (*ahem* Panda Express (even though it is delicious)).
The dessert menu looked enticing, though we didn't try anything. Cindy Larson from the News Sentinel did, and described her experience thus: "I ordered sweet sticky rice with ice cream, and it was good. Drizzled with just a little chocolate and garnished with a cherry and a bit of whipped cream, it was better than a traditional ice cream sundae. The warm sticky rice melted ice cream a bit and added an interesting texture to the dessert.
My friend's sweet sticky rice with Thai custard was even better. It was served on a large plate attractively presented with swirls of chocolate syrup and three cherries that made it look sort of like a creature with eyes and a nose. Both desserts were worthwhile."
Mouthwatering to say the least, it is not hard to see why Spice & Herb has received such rave reviews online, from the Urbanspoon, Yelp, even TripAdviser, many have called it the best Thai in town. I'm still investigating, although for now, it's at the top of my list too. We'll definitely be back.
A hidden gem, Spice & Herb is tucked in the corner of Coldwater Centre at Wallen Road. While there is nothing striking about the outside of this strip mall location, inside is bright, colorful and cozy. All in all, a very friendly, fantastic Thai food experience, right here in Fort Wayne.
Spice & Herb Thai Cuisine 8802 Coldwater Road, Fort Wayne (260) 489-3205 Tuesday - Thursday: 11-3 pm & 5-9 pm Friday: 11-3 pm & 5-9:30 pm Saturday: noon-9:30 pm (Closed Sunday and Monday)
Photos by Tony Frantz