Review: Katoi in Corktown draws crowds with unique fare

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Categories: Where to Eat

Molly Abraham 3:29 p.m. EDT April 7, 2016
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(Photo: Robin Buckson / The Detroit News)

At this point in its young existence, the restaurant Katoi — in but not of Corktown — is a victim of its own popularity. A standing room only mass of humanity packs the small place just about every night, and those who choose to sit at the bar just inside the entrance find themselves elbow-to-elbow with those waiting for tables in the dining room.

When the early crowds subside, as they surely will, this interesting spot will be much more comfortable and the experience will improve.

Certainly, the Thai-Laotian fare being served in the odd little cinder block building is distinctive and anything but same-old, same-old.

The simple cinder-block exterior covers the Katoi restaurantBuy Photo
The simple cinder-block exterior covers the Katoi restaurant on Michigan, which is anything but same-old, same-old. (Photo: Robin Buckson / The Detroit News)
The curries and noodle dishes are fragrant with fresh herbs, ginger and lime. About half are spicy — the little red chili pepper symbols on the menu are definitely to be believed. One chili pepper signifies spicy and two mean very spicy. Take chef and proprietor Brad Greenhill at his word.

The small paper menus list the house beverages on one side and a la carte food selections on the other, and the waitstaff and bartenders are helpful with those ordering the unusual specialties. Nice to know, for instance, that the stir-fried water spinach with tamarind, ginger, Thai chili and cashew nuts, one of the dishes marked with a single red chili pepper, teams well with an order of sticky rice, one of three rice preparations that also includes shrimp fried rice and jasmine rice.

The sticky rice comes tucked into a little lidded basket, and it teams well with many of the dishes, because it allows diners a medium with which to scoop up the pungent sauces that are part of such dishes as Burmese pork belly curry with pickled garlic, or Panaeng curry made with squash, tofu and lime, one of the vegetarian dishes on the list. And it also cools the fires of the two spiciest selections, som tum Thai (a salad of green papaya, tomatoes, long beans, lime and Thai chilies) and a hot pot that includes frog legs, wild ginger and eggplant.

Som tum Thai, one of the restaurant’s spicier dishes,Buy Photo
Som tum Thai, one of the restaurant’s spicier dishes, consists of green papaya, long beans, tomatoes, peanuts, Thai chilies and lime. (Photo: Robin Buckson / The Detroit News)
More substantial dishes include Thai fried chicken, spare ribs and smoked brisket with herbs and a chili dip, another of the spicy dishes.

The dining room, which includes a long communal table as well as cozier seating in booths along the wall and at smaller tables, offers a view of the activity in the kitchen along the rear wall. And it’s not just a peek. The action is fully visible and adds to the room’s appeal. Place settings include the long Thai chopsticks as well as conventional silverware and red cloth napkins.

House cocktails are multi-ingredient productions in which the essences and oils lined up along the bar play a major role along with gin, tequila, rum and whiskey.

Corktown has a new contender.

An opaque wall lined with bottles creates a dividerBuy Photo
An opaque wall lined with bottles creates a divider between the bar area and the dining area at Katoi on Michigan Avenue in Detroit on Mar. 30, 2016. Robin Buckson, The Detroit News
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An opaque wall lined with bottles creates a divider Katoi has a very simple exterior. Wok-steamed mussels with cilantro butter, saffron, A waving cat greets diners at the entry, along with, Partner and chef Brad Greenhill, left, and wok chef Stir fried water spinach with tamarind, ginger, thai Bartender Drew Pompa mixes cocktails precisely at Katoi. Thrice cooked sweet potatoes with avocado, palm sugar, Andrew Kasper of Royal Oak and Kayla Mouser of Taylor Smoked carrots with coconut yogurt, pistachio, perilla A long community table is in the center of the dining A bowl of som tum thai, green papaya, long beans, tomatoes, A bowl of som tum thai, green papaya, long beans, tomatoes, Patrons sit in front of the open kitchen. Partner and creative director Courtney Henriette, left, Hansa Wong of Woodhaven, left, and Melissa Litao of Tess Hickey of Hazel Park, left, and Jessica Schlienz Chinese duck noodles with duck leg, wood ear, shitake, An opaque wall lined with bottles creates a divider Allie Manche and Jacob Wescott, both of Detroit, dig An opaque wall lined with bottles creates a divider
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2520 Michigan, Detroit

Call: (313) 855-2964



Hours: 5-midnight Mon.-Wed., 5 p.m.-2 a.m. Thurs.-Sat. Closed Sun.

Prices: Vegetables and salads $8-$16, noodle and curry dishes $14-$18, mains $13-$32 (the latter for whole red snapper), desserts $4-$7

Credit cards: All major

Liquor: Full bar, with an emphasis on aromatic house cocktails

Noise level: High

Parking: Small attached lot and street.

Wheelchair access: No barriers

What the ratings mean

★ — routine ★★ — good

★★1/2 — very good ★★★ — excellent

★★★★ — outstanding

Article Source:
Detroit News, April 6, 2016