There are no water views at Origin Asian Bistro & Sushi on Key Biscayne, which allows one to focus on the flavors of the food.
The space has red papaya and cream walls with murals of Thai apsaras or celestial nymphs and a royal barge on the Chao Phraya River. A small sushi bar with pristine seafood is behind glass. If you sit outside on the terrace, tables are under a huge pergola and umbrellas, and fans circulate air.
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The menu has mostly Thai dishes with a few Malay and Khmer thrown in, plus noodle soups, stir-fries, grilled meats and seafood, pastas with curry pesto sauces, and sashimi and sushi.
Owner Lena Sumonthee was born in New York City, where her father, Joe Senivong, worked at Windows on the World. He learned to cook from his mother and became a chef at the Mandarin Oriental in Bangkok before heading to New York, where he planned to go to school but ended up cooking.
Sumonthee went to the Art Institute in Los Angeles and became a graphic designer for Clear Channel Communications in Miramar, but after five years, she joined her dad in the restaurant business. The first Origin was in South Beach, then it moved to South Miami and in 2007 landed at its current location in Key Colony Plaza. The name comes from the original or authentic Thai and Asian ingredients used.
Start with hot curry puffs with puff pastry stuffed with chicken, sweet potato and onion, or cold, thinly sliced octopus tentacles in spicy kimchi sauce with seaweed, cucumber, scallions and sesame seeds topped with tobiko (flying fish roe).
There’s also chicken, pork or beef satay skewers with peanut sauce and cucumber relish; crispy tofu cubes with sweet chile-peanut dip; lamb ribs with Asian barbecue sauce; and Malaysian roti canai. The latter is a flaky Indian-influenced flatbread also popular in southern Thailand, cooked on a griddle after the dough is tossed and spun until very thin, then oiled, flattened and folded many times. Crisp triangles are served with yellow coconut curry with tiny potato cubes for dipping.
Ba med led is egg noodle soup with roasted pork, bean sprouts and cilantro. Malaysian shrimp scampi sautéed in basil-garlic-butter-wine sauce with mushrooms, peppers and tomato is served with coconut rice. Vegetable or shrimp tempura comes with a salad and brown rice, or try teriyaki lobster tail with salad and jasmine rice.
Cambodian salmon amok brings a thick fillet in coconut cream seasoned with galangal (a hotter type of ginger), kaffir lime leaves, Thai basil and peppers wrapped in fresh banana leaves and steamed until the fish is almost like custard, accompanied with a bowl of sticky rice. Rolls include the Exotic with tuna, crab, shrimp and mango, and Spicy Scallops with scallop tempura, avocado, jalapeño and masago with green curry mayo.
Dessert spring rolls filled with caramelized apple and banana will appeal to any sweet tooth.
Linda Bladholm is a Miami-based food writer.