BY ABBIE DIGEL

The open kitchen is the main draw to
the Lotus Pad, a tiny establishment
located in the West Fork Village, next
to the bakery and Wilson’s video.
The minute I stepped inside the
small space, I was warmed by the
friendly greeting of the wait staff, all
of whom wore goggle tans and were
dressed in appealing black slacks,
aprons and button downs. The lighting
had an orange glow that paired
with the painted walls, and the smell
of curry filled the air.
I sat at the bar, which is the best seat in
the house because of the in-your-face
open kitchen, and ordered a glass of
Siduri Pinot Noir with a bowl of the
Tom Yum (Hot and Sour Soup). A sous
chef filled bowls with fresh carrots,
sprouts, bananas and broccoli. Chef
Alex Hoeksema drizzled in liquids
from bottles with Thai writing on
the labels and added in cubed tofu,
a whole, peeled tomato, and other
savory spices. Flames shot up to the
ceiling as the food sizzled in the woks.
The assembly line in the kitchen was
as high-energy as the wait staff that
scurried around fi lling drink and
food orders, setting tables and seating
guests. There was a buzz about the
place, as diners picked up to-go orders,
and friends chatted over ginger martinis and mojitos.
Lotus Pad’s one-wok
dishes have that street food appeal, but
with a flair of elegance. The servings
are huge and come served on square,
white plates, or in deep, fancy bowls.
“It’s all about my love of food and
cooking,” said Hoeksema, as she
dipped a tasting spoon into the wok
and tasted some bubbling hot Tom Ka
Gai (Coconut soup). “I taste everything before I serve it,” she said. “So
it’s not too spicy for the customers.”
She and her husband Scott opened the
popular Thai restaurant in 2007 in the
Town Center in Big Sky.
Hoeksema prides herself on her
extensive culinary background, and
is glad she settled in Big Sky. She
spent 10 years in San Francisco, where
she graduated from culinary school,
then cooked under the hat of various
chefs. “It was too competitive,” she
said of the cutthroat culinary world
there. Growing up, she’d travelled
extensively with her Navy family, and
lived in Thailand for a year, as well as
Baltimore and Alaska.
Also a Food Network junkie, she
watches Iron Chef, and raves about
Anthony Bourdain’s books. When she
worked as a pastry chef at the Yellowstone Club, Wolfgang Puck came up to
her, personally, to tell her how great
her dessert was.
Hoeksema had various other gigs
in Big Sky, including waitressing
at Milkies, and she still caters during her spare time. “It’s definitely a challenge,” she
said. She gave birth to a daughter
in 2009, and in 2010 opened the
once popular Blue Bird Cafe in Big
Sky, which closed soon after.
So for now, they’re focused on
maintaining the Lotus Pad as a
not-so-typical Asian destination
for both tourists and locals. Their
menu reflects “the Thai concepts
of sweet, sour and salty, but toned
down.” All of the recipes are
unique and created from trial and
error, and “asking a lot of questions.”
“My halibut and banana curry, was
a huge portion of green coconut
curry with red bell pepper, bok
choy, mushrooms and Thai chili.
The leftovers tasted even better the
next day.”
The restaurant is now open seven
nights a week. Make a reservation,
because the small venue fills up fast,
especially on weekends.
Hoeksema and her husband want
people to experience the uniqueness of the availability of fresh,
homemade Thai eggplant or Chinese
broccoli in a ski town setting. And
the best part? “When people leave,
they come back.” It’s just that kind
of place.
lotuspadbigsky.com