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 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.
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.
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