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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, October 18, 2002

Montien Thai hitting its stride in Mo'ili'ili

By Matthew Gray
Advertiser Restaurant Critic

Montien Olney, co-owner and chef of Montien Thai Restaurant, cooks up winning cuisine on South King Street.

Deborah Booker • The Advertiser

Montien Thai Restaurant

2671 S. King St.

Lunch 11 a.m.-2 p.m.,

Dinner 5-9 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays-Saturdays; 4-9 p.m. Sundays;



About 18 months ago, when Montien opened its doors, it was obvious it wasn't ready for business. A take-out order took more than an hour to assemble, and once the food was back at the office, it tasted as though it had been hastily prepared. Fried foods were soggy, the curries had no depth of flavor and the noodles were a clumped mess. My gut feeling was the restaurant would be out of business within a year, but Montien has proved me wrong.

Apparently, this husband-and-wife team (wife Montien is the chef), with help from their daughter Vicky, was able to hire skilled help back in the kitchen, making a go of it much to the delight of local Thai food fans.

This Mo'ili'ili restaurant is on the same side of the street as Kokua Market and one of my favorite places, Yao's, and across the street from Sushi King. The light-lavender walls provide a relaxing feeling with which to surround yourself. Blue and white tiles on the floor match the dishes on which the food is presented.

Normally, my measure of a Thai place is how well it does pad Thai ($6.50 with chicken or tofu, $7.50 with shrimp), the national dish of Thailand. It is rice noodles stir-fried with fish sauce, tamarind, palm sugar, bits of egg, bean sprouts, spring onion and topped with crushed peanuts. Montien's is good but not great.

I've tasted the restaurant's stuffed chicken wings ($7.95), a popular appetizer. There are five generous pieces included here, stuffed with a seasoned ground-pork mixture. They were very good, crunchy and flavorful, even without the ubiquitous sweet dipping sauce.

Mee Krob (crispy Thai noodles, $6.95) is the quite popular sticky-sweet and crispy noodle dish, served with bean sprouts and tofu chunks. Although this is on the appetizer menu, I think this dish would go well as a foil to some of the spicier entrees such as the curries.

Satay comes two ways here for the same price, $7.95. Chicken (10 pieces), and shrimp (eight pieces) are skewered and grilled, served with the creamy sweet-spicy-savory peanut sauce everyone seems to adore.

I saw crunchy spring rolls ($6.50 for 10 pieces) and yummy-looking fish patties ($6.95 for six pieces) being ordered at the next table. They were devoured in short order.

My favorite Thai soup, tom kha gai, ($3.95) is flavored with ginger, lemongrass and chili peppers, with chicken and vegetables, in a coconut-enriched broth. It's rich without being thick, spicy in a pleasure-meets-pain way, and curiously invigorating.

The spicy fried fish ($8.95) lived up to its name. Fried pieces are tossed with a spicy sauce, amped up with the addition of Thai basil and red, green and orange sweet bell peppers, plus spicy chili pepper. There may also have been a drizzling of fish sauce and vinegar on this one, which reminded me of a cross-cultural blending of Chinese, Filipino and Thai styles, flavors and techniques.

All the curries I tried, panang beef ($7.95), green curry beef ($7.95), and red curry chicken ($7.95), were in a creamy coconut-milk sauce, quite spicy even though I ordered medium-spicy. You may be well-advised to order on the mild side, with Thai chilies on the side.

Parking is limited, with a few stalls in back. Otherwise, you'll have to find on-street parking.

Chef Montien does a good job in the kitchen, making this a worthwhile place to check out if you're looking for another Thai restaurant to try.

Reach Matthew Gray at mgray@honoluluadvertiser.com.