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Orchid Isle [then under new mgmt as Orchid 7], Bethesda, MD (restaurant)

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Name:Orchid Isle, then under new mgmt as Orchid 7
Street:4723 Elm Street

all i know about this one is someone mentioned it on a non-tiki message board, and i recently found a matchbook cover image on worthpoint.com.

the current location is a restaurant/pub and was likely the original building to this restaurant. apparently orchid isle failed as a business and was opened under new management as orchid 7, who also opened a restaurant in georgetown under the same name. no mugs, menus or matchbooks could be found with the "orchid 7" markings.

[ Edited by: johnny dollar 2011-02-25 12:11 ]

Johnny Dollar, Tiki King of the greater Washington DC area!

I had clipped that matchbook from ebay a long time ago, here are slightly bigger images.

(nice graphics in the border)

I also found this postcard image in my files from an Orchid Isle restaurant. I don't own the card so I can't be positive it is from the same location.

Looks like the dinning room had some Tiki going on with fishnet floats, tapa and bamboo. Are those Tiki lamps on the table, and Tikis in the back of the room?

Will have to find this card again.


sweeet! looks like.

i haven't been in the barking dog for probably 12 to 15 years, but the ceiling heights and room proportions looks like a possible match.

another potentially relevant piece of data, depending on when the orchid isle was operating, it could have been in direct competition with the benihana that is only two blocks away (and still operating to this day).

[ Edited by: Johnny Dollar 2011-02-17 13:14 ]

I just remembered where I got the image from the Orchid Isle, Tikisgrl posted here on TC and it is from Bethesda. Maybe she can post a better scan and show the back of the card.

http://www.tikicentral.com/viewtopic.php?topic=1099&forum=5&vpost=406516&hilite=orchid isle


On 2011-02-17 12:39, Dustycajun wrote:
Are those Tiki lamps on the table

signs point to yes...

here is the article from the WaPo from 1973 that i came across in looking for info about the Orchid Isle in Bethesda, which became Orchid 7... which lead me to finding out about Orchid 7 in georgetown, and we know the rest of the story...

Orchid 7: Bongo bongo soup and flaming showmanship
by Donald Dresden
The Washington Post; Jul 29, 1973;

Food: [smileyface] [smileyface] [smileyface]
Style: [whisk] [whisk] [whisk]

Restaurants are rated on food by smiles, none to four; and on service, comfort and ambiance by wire whisks, also from zero to four.

4723 Elm St., Bethesda, Md. 654-5137. Monday through Friday, lunch from 11:30 to 3, dinner 5 to 11. Dinner Saturday 4:30 to midnight, Sunday 4 to 11. Reservations, major credit cards accepted. Valet parking for dinner.

The Orchid 7, which began operations last year, has no connection with a restaurant called the Orchid Isle that formerly occupied the premises. However, Orchid 7 is a property of Pagoda 7, Inc., which operates the Pagoda 7 restaurant in Hillcrest Heights, Md. The head of this two-restaurant enterprise is Gregory Tu. Shanghai-born Tu managed Trader Vic’s Washington, D.C., place for about 15 years before striking out on his own.

Tu has insisted that the décor of the Orchid 7 be authentically Oriental. To that end, he and his associates scoured that part of the world for artifacts and decorative pieces which now adorn the Bethesda restaurant. A pleasing atmosphere has resulted; a good lighting system enables one to enjoy the setting, and also to read the menu and to see what he is eating. Cheers.

The Orchid 7 menu is split among Oriental, Continental and Occidental, but the list has an unmistakable South Seas accent. It is easy to read, quite comprehensive, and with many of the items explained in English.

One not explained in writing, but described verbally to the diner, is bongo bongo soup, an unusual and outstanding starting course. This is essentially a creamed soup of pureed oysters and spinach with sherry, a bit of garlic and curry powder, along with other ingredients, all handled with care. Just before being served in a large shell, the soup gets a ladle of whipped cream, and then goes under the broiler to make it golden on the top.

Fried chicken livers also serve superbly as a starting course. The pieces of liver are dipped in a light batter, seasoned with salt heated until it assumes a charcoal flavor, then deep fried in peanut oil until golden brown. The taste is quite delicate.

The Orchid 7 Own Soup was a third of the starting courses at a recent dinner. It starts out with a concentrated chicken broth to which a bit of tomato is added, and just before serving, beaten egg with sesame seed oil is stirred in. It was estimable.

One of my guests, looking for a main course with South Seas tones, chose almond duck with plum sauce. The duck (Long Island type) is simmered until the chef needs only his fingers to remove the skin and the meat. Oversimplified, the duck meat is “smashed” (in Tu’s term), then mixed with sherry and water chestnut flour, spread on a fireproof dish and steamed. After cooling, the duck mixture is deep fried, then cut into serving pieces.

The dish is served with plum sauce, a rather standard Far East sauce, except that the Orchid 7 version includes guai flower paste made from a yellowish, fragrant blossom. Also, chopped almonds top the duck.

Compared with other Oriental duck dishes, this one was fairly bland, and the deep frying did not result in a crisp exterior. My guest rated the dish short of memorable, a judgment that coincided with my tasting.

The pago steak, another main course, was based on a fine piece of beef, butterflied (split the long way) and slightly grilled, since it was ordered rare. The tableside preparation approximated that of steak Diane as done in New York (and perhaps here, too) before the present trend toward inordinate amounts of taste-killing sauces become common. Because of that restraint, the dish came off reasonably well, but why two flamings with brandy? Just showmanship.

Cantonese lobster turned out as one of the best of the three main courses, despite the fact that the crustacean had been frozen – it came from Australia. Only the tail of a three-and-a-half-pound specimen is used.

This is not meant to be a recipe, but rather, an approximation of the way the dish is prepared: In a highly flamed wok, peanut oil (it imparts no taste) is heated. A little chopped pork, tomato, garlic and mushrooms are all cooked quickly and removed from the wok. Then the cut-up lobster, a bit of white wine, a special, light soy sauce, Accent and chicken broth go into the wok for about two minutes, with a final addition of the other elements and an egg to thicken the sauce.

The service at the Orchid 7 is exceptionally polite but only reasonably good.

Dinner for three was $28.10. The lunch daily special is $3.15.

[ Edited by: Johnny Dollar 2011-02-25 12:18 ]

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another scan of the postcard for this place.

here is a nice ad and blurb in the 1977 edition of "dossier," a dc publication http://www.scribd.com/doc/78865794/2/PIlIicattOnlleSll-n

The following was submitted to me through a local history page on FB:

My husband and I were aficionados of Orchid 7 on Elm St. from our early dating days in 1972-74, in fact, he had his bachelor party there in 1974. We were there because it was founded by Gregory Tu and Everett xxx. They had been maitre d' at Trader Vics at the Capital Hilton downtown. Husband's parents went there a lot and when they opened up their Bethesda restaurant, we went there - it was as convenient and slightly cheaper for the same Traders food and drink.

Gregory was a great dreamer and schemer. With the success of Orchid 7, they wanted to have a downtown restaurant, so they opened an ill-fated Orchid 7 in 1977 in the Georgetown Mall on Thomas Jefferson Street. It was a horrible location with no parking. The expected tourists did not come and the rent was high.

Needless to say, things went south and as they did, Gregory apparently did things fast & loose. He transferred property to his common law wife Lisa. Things continued downhill. Soon, Lisa was missing, blood was found, Gregory was apprehended in Las Vegas. Doug Gansler won a murder trial putting Tu in jail, even with a missing body. (Much written about the case, just google).

We still love the food & drink. We now go to Shanghai Village on Bethesda Ave, where chef Kwok (who was a Trader Vic bartender) has a great Peking duck and mean mai tai!


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