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Spice & Herb
*** 1/2
Out of a possible five

Presentation, cuisine shine at Thai spot

It was one of those little places I just knew I would like as soon as I walked in.

Spice & Herb Thai Cuisine is sort of hidden in the corner of Coldwater Centre at Wallen Road. There is nothing that catches your eye about it from the outside, but what quickly caught my eye inside were the bright photos of intricate fruit sculptures that line the walls and sit under the glass on the tables.

The knife skills used to make these pieces of art were those of Nattana Scherer, who owns Spice & Herb with her husband, Tim, and they were on display on my plates, also. My children were in awe of the cool green apples carved into chickens that accompanied their orange chicken. They were so neat, they refused to eat them.

All of the food was gorgeous, too, but I never considered not eating any of it.

The fresh herb salad rolls were brightly colored with red cabbage, julienned carrots, red pepper, cucumbers and a lot of fresh mint inside the raw, doughy wrappers. All were crisp and refreshing. The mint really shined and the sweet, chunky peanut sauce was perfect.

Another salad, the Yum Wood Sen (crystal noodle salad), may have been the best dish I had at Spice & Herb. Six plump shrimp were mixed into clear noodles with bits of pork, green onions, shredded carrot, red onions, diced tomato, cilantro and peanuts. The light dressing coating it all was sweet but flecked with red pepper flakes to give it a little burn at the end. It will be a must-have for my next visit and would be a great lunch option.

There was nothing sweet about my Pad Kra Prow Talay (spicy seafood combination) because I chose to order it “Thai spicy.” All dishes can be either mild, medium, hot or Thai spicy, which I would not recommend unless you really like spicy food, or if you have some dust in your eyes you want to cry out, or if you just want to sweat off a few pounds while you eat.

The seafood combo was wonderful even with the fire it brought with it. The same plump shrimp, perfectly cooked scallops, superbly prepared tender calamari and mild, succulent mussels were stir fried with a cornucopia of vegetables – green beans, bell peppers, sprouts, onions, broccoli, carrot and more – fresh Thai basil leaves and chopped garlic.

If you don’t dare go hot, dare to go gingery with the Pad Khing (ginger lovers), listed as a “traditional entrée” and also dubbed as a healthy option. All of these entrées are available vegetarian, but meats can be added for varying prices.

The orange peppers, green onions, black mushrooms, bell peppers and diced garlic were plentiful in the Pad Khing, and there were big slivers of ginger that almost looked like noodles. I paid extra to have beef, which was tender and enjoyable, and also paid a little extra for fried rice instead of white. But the star was clearly the fresh, pungent ginger.

Given how much I liked the ginger dish, I had high hopes for the – let me take a breath before I say it – Gla Lad Kra-Tiem Prik-Thai (garlic-lovers fish). There appeared to be plenty of garlic, but it didn’t pack the same wallop. The fish was tender and moist and a little crisp around the edges, but the lack of garlic flavor made me not a lover of this dish.

I was also not a fan of the vegetarian Thai spring rolls, which was surprising given how much I enjoyed the salad rolls. These little fried rolls lacked filling, and I struggled to taste anything other than the crispy wrappings. They had cabbage, carrot, celery, crystal noodles and a lot of black pepper, which was nice. But I struggled to find any of the dried mushrooms the menu stated they included and couldn’t taste any of the garlic that also was supposed to be inside.

But I can, however, report that America’s favorite Thai dish, Pad Thai, was a winner. The finely diced chicken and tofu mixed in well with the bevy of other ingredients, the cabbage and peanuts were left on the side of the plate so they stayed crunchy and fresh until I mixed them in with the noodles and sauce, and there were what I thought were raisins or perhaps diced prunes mixed in, which added a great touch of sweetness to counteract the red pepper heat.

I asked what the sweet little chewy bits were, but my server struggled to answer. At one point I thought she said they were tomatoes (sun-dried, perhaps) but I am not sure.

Although I love cozy little restaurants like Spice & Herb, the service was not perfect. Aside from the communication issues, it was a bit slow getting food to the table and, when the small staff was busy waiting on others, I practically had to wave someone down and demand they take my bill during one visit so I could leave.

But that didn’t even come close to tainting my view of this tiny jewel. From the tasty Thai iced teas and coffees to the beautiful knife work and plating on the scrumptious mango sticky rice I had for dessert, it was memorable enough to make me want to return again soon.

Restaurant: Spice & Herb Thai Cuisine

Address: 8802 Coldwater Road

Phone: 489-3205

Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Thursday; 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday

Cuisine: Thai

Handicapped accessible: Yes, but confined

Alcohol: Beer and wine

Credit cards: Yes

Kid-friendly: Yes, with menu

Menu: Salad rolls ($6.95), spring rolls ($6.95), crystal noodle salad ($14.95), Pad Thai ($10.95), fish garlic lovers ($18.95), ginger lovers ($10.95), combination seafood ($22.95), mango sticky rice ($6)

Rating breakdown: Food: ** 1/2 (3-star maximum); atmosphere: 1/2 (1 maximum), service: 1/2 (1 maximum)

Note: Restaurants are categorized by price range: $ (less than $20 for three-course meal), $$ ($20-$29); $$$ ($30-$39), $$$$ ($40-$49), $$$$$ ($50 and up).

Ryan DuVall is a restaurant critic for The Journal Gazette. This review is based on two unannounced visits. The Journal Gazette pays for all meals. Email him at rduvall@jg.net; call at 461-8130. DuVall’s past reviews can be found at www.journalgazette.net. You can also follow him on Twitter @DiningOutDuVall.