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Modern Orchid blooms 

In Dartmouth Crossing’s white-bread retail district, a little Asian spice makes for a busy restaurant.

click to enlarge MELISSA BUOTE

Modern Orchid is packed. It's lunch time, and there are only two tables left in the Dartmouth Crossing restaurant. The four of us sit down at the table nearest the entrance. Natural light pours in from the front window, reflecting off of the tall, light walls in the open room.

The restaurant is pretty in a bare way, simply designed. Tall, sparsely decorated walls lead up to an industrial looking ceiling, all exposed pipes and ducts. The tables are placed somewhat tightly---our server is jostled every time someone walks by her while she's at our table---but the room never feels cramped with the long climb to the roof.

The server drops off menus and takes our drink order pretty quickly. We look over the small lunch specials menu, which includes both Thai and Chinese combo plates, and also take a glimpse at the extensive regular menu. There are varied Chinese, Vietnamese and Thai offerings.

Two of us order Thai lunches ($10.95)---one crispy spicy beef and one spicy coconut beef---another gets a Mongolian beef Chinese combo platter ($10.95) and the other gets a red curry ($13.95) and steamed jasmine rice ($3.50) off of the regular menu.

A curry vegetable soup is served as the appetizer for the two Thai combos. The soup is a curried broth with some carrot and bok choy. It's a nice, light way to start the meal.

After that, the food is delivered in a staggered order over more than five minutes. It's a little weird. The red curry arrives first, a pretty bowl of sliced chicken and vegetables covered in a rust-coloured sauce. Another bowl with the rice is plated alongside. The curry is fragrant and flavourful, but there is no significant fire to it. As the other dishes arrive, we learn that Modern Orchid goes light on spice.

The Chinese food shows up next. It's pretty typical American-Chinese food, a few steps up from mall food and a few steps down from some of Halifax's great new Chinese restaurants.

The curried egg roll is tasty enough, as is the chicken fried rice. The sauce on the Mongolian beef is a nice combination of sweet hoisin with the salty, savoury earthiness of soy. There's nothing incredibly special about the plate, but it's all good.

The two Thai lunch specials are the last to show up. Though both have "spicy" in their name, but neither lives up to it. The coconut beef is vastly superior to the crispy beef, the latter not being crispy at all. Though the breading has a nice savoury seasoning and the beef is wonderfully cooked---still a little pink in the middle and very tender---the soft, crumbly breading makes for dry bite after dry bite. Tender, juicy onions and green pepper thankfully add a pleasant taste and texture.

The coconut beef is served similarly to the red curry, meat and vegetables doused in a soupy sauce. The coconut hums in the background of a sweet, but not too cloying, sauce. It's delicious.

The Thai combos are both served with steamed rice---fries were an option, which seemed a bit out of place---and blah salads of bean sprouts and iceberg lettuce served with the the same sweet dipping sauce that comes alongside the fat spring rolls. The spring rolls are the best part; they are big and delicious, crispy and not overly greasy.

By the time we finish, the restaurant is almost empty, the lunch rush is over. Our server pops by for a friendly chat to see us off. We all leave full and happy enough. It's a good lunch option, especially decent for the big-box retail zone that is Dartmouth Crossing.

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