My husband and I consider ourselves global omnivores: We eat foods from around the world and are raising our children to do the same. Ethnic restaurants offer foods I can't, or don't, make at home and, better yet, force my kids to order something other than chicken fingers or pizza. My family travels the world, one local restaurant at a time.
My kids love Thai food but hadn't eaten it since we left Southern California — and our favorite Thai restaurant — eight months ago. We needed a fix. I didn't expect Ocha Thai in Waterbury to feel like our restaurant, where the waitress knew our order from memory, but it was time to move on. And we could support a locally owned business in a town hard-hit by Tropical Storm Irene.
Ocha's 19th-century brick exterior on Main Street screams Victorian New England, but the interior is a tropical oasis, with pastel walls and enough Buddhas to keep kids counting until the food comes. The dining room has four distinct sections. We were seated far enough away from the couples on dates that I didn't have to worry that my two 10-year-olds would disturb their chi.
With no chicken fingers or fries in this joint, and no waitress with our preferences memorized, my kids spent a lot of time studying their menus.
"Do you think I would like the duck?" my son — global omnivore in training — asked.
"Probably," I said. "But since it's our first time here you might try something you know you like."
I felt a little guilty for discouraging his adventurous spirit, but a $22 dish would be a pricey experiment. He settled on the barbecue Thai chicken, while his sister chose wide rice noodles with chicken in oyster sauce. My husband and I stuck with Thai staples: pad Thai and yellow chicken curry, extra spicy.
Our server was gracious and polite and brought our dishes out quickly, a bonus on a school night. The food hit the table so hot we knew it had been in the pan just seconds before. My kids didn't like the vegetables in the fried spring roll appetizers, but my son chewed his fried noodle-wrapped shrimp down to its tail.
Our main courses were everything we'd hoped for. The curry had a lot of heat, something I wasn't sure I would find in Vermont. The barbecue chicken was basic but well executed, and the pad Thai was as good as any I have tasted. My daughter's noodles, a risky order for her in a new restaurant, put the "ooh" in "umami. "
"Do you think I would like the sticky rice?" my daughter asked after reading the dessert choices.
Embracing her daring, we ordered the mango version. The kids left the fruit — ripe, juicy and delicious — for me and then scraped up every last bit of sweet rice. It was a good deal all around.