SalaThai on Cambie

After finally watching The King’s Speech (which is a fantastic film, by the way, and deserved all the Golden Globes Awards it received) last night, a companion of mine (codenamed “Emme” for the sake of privacy~) and I found ourselves on Cambie St. at dinner time. Although I live close to Cambie, I’ve rarely explored it or spent time poking around past Cambie and W Broadway… Yep, that means I’m hardly acquainted with any restaurants in that area, though I have heard from several people that Shiro, which is at Cambie and W 15th (I believe) is worth visiting. As it stood, however, I just went out for Japanese with Emme over the weekend, and although I could eat it every day, Emme likes varying things a little more than I do…

Walking a bit took us to the front of SalaThai, which I recalled seeing on urbanspoon.com. I couldn’t remember reading anything particularly horrid about it, and there were signs all over the window making claims to fame or being the “best” Thai restaurant in Vancouver in 2010, etc. etc. There was also a large plastic menu with pictures of every dish posted on the window… Now, I don’t know about the rest of the dining crowd, but Emme is pretty suspicious of places that post pictures of their dishes everywhere in order to draw a crowd in (or to show what a dish is?). I’m somewhat of an amateur when it comes to picking good restaurants, or discerning good from bad, and I’m new at this food blogging thing, too… So anyway, I completely fell for all the “Best Thai Food in Vancouver!” and “Voted #1 in the city!” signs and urged Emme that it didn’t look that bad and that we should try it out.

Well… Let me start by saying that I was wrong. I’m sorry to be harsh and/or disappointing, but my meal at SalaThai on Cambie was one of the worst meals I’ve had in a while.

To start, we were seated in a warm dining room by the window, and the ambiance was quite okay with slightly dimmed lights and a quiet dining crowd. The restaurant was pretty clean, but several times throughout the meal we were subjected to listening to the obnoxiously loud crunching and crackling of plastic bags as take out was prepared right in the dining room. (Could this not be done before the dish comes out of the kitchen?) Also, the dining room did not stay consistently warm. The floor staff that evening turned the heat on and off throughout the evening… The restaurant became chilly just as quickly as it warmed up when the heat was turned back on. Is it really necessary to play with the heating switch? Why not find a comfortable temperature and leave it at that? The restaurant never got “too warm” in the first place, so I don’t understand the logic behind this (to save money?).

While the service was not terrible, as it seems other reviewers have mentioned experiencing at this particular SalaThai branch, our waiter could hardly explain dishes to us when we inquired about anything. Fortunately, he was quite smiley in compensation for inability to speak proper English, so I can’t say that my experience with the service here was as bad as others’ experiences. Our glasses were not routinely filled with water, however, and asking for water top-ups was a bit difficult simply because catching the attention of the waiters was not an easy task… (Being short on water is not something you want when you’re eating spicy food, I think!)

Onto the food: Emme ordered Chicken Cashew Nuts ($10.50), which is “chicken sautéed with cashew nuts, onion, dry red chili, and bell peppers” only Emme asked if they could omit the red chili to take down the spice level. This simple request confused the waiter… Initially Emme just asked if they could make it less spicy, or just mildly spicy, and the waiter didn’t get what we were asking (even though, looking at the website now, we apparently should have been able to ask for varying levels of spice!)… Thus she ended up just saying “No red chili” and he finally understood.

Half-eaten plate of Chicken Cashew Nuts

This dish was the first out of the kitchen – literally about five or ten minutes after it had been ordered. Usually speediness is a good thing in a restaurant, especially if you’re hungry… but this is only if speed is accompanied by quality. This dish was, sadly, pretty terrible. The chicken was soggy, the veggies limp, and the sauce – which should have had a nice nutty flavour from the cashews and should have been tasty even without the red chili – was flavourless and watery. In fact, we’re both pretty sure that the entire dish was just prepared earlier in the day and then nuked in the microwave for a couple of minutes before serving. (The website says otherwise, but you can never really know…)

Some of the ‘Chicken Cashew Nuts’ with Coconut Rice

Emme tried the dish alongside some coconut rice ($2.25), which was pretty standard. Overall, a very disappointing dining experience for Emme, who has in fact been to Thailand and tasted true (and truly fantastic) Thai cuisine.

To top off the evening, Emme was extremely sick less than an hour after eating. Food poisoning? I’m not sure… That or just a really poorly prepared meal. She could only pinpoint the chicken as perhaps being the cause — it seemed suspicious even when she was eating it.

Being the health-conscious one that loves vegetables, I of course ordered a salad: the SalaThai Seafood Salad ($12.99).

SalaThai Seafood Salad

This was actually not that bad. It definitely could have done with a bit more seafood, though… and less iceberg lettuce, which seemed to dwarf the plate and take up half of it, pretty much. The spicy lime juice was actually a nice complement to what would otherwise be a totally bland salad. The seafood was all cooked, at least, but not really in a consistent manner… By that I mean, I had a few pieces of squid and shrimp that were really rubbery, and a few pieces that were quite okay and tender as they’re supposed to be. I only had two mussels on the plate, but they were both tasty. The lumps of white fish fillet I had were, at the very least, cooked well and not dry. The shrimp, squid, and fish fillet chunks were all flavourless and lacking the typical mild and soft sweetness I’ve tasted when eating seafood at other times… Luckily, the veggies on the plate were crispy and fresh, although the cilantro (which was supposed to be mint) didn’t have as strong a flavour as it should have and may have been a bit old. The two orange slices I got were obviously cut earlier in the day — they were soggy and just tasted old.

I ordered a little bowl of Jasmine Rice ($1.75) on the side to make my meal more filling.

Jasmine Rice

I was expecting a delicately flavoured bowl of rice with a light, fragrant, subtly nutty aroma… but this just tasted like plain white rice. Also, if I’m not completely mistaken, isn’t Jasmine rice supposed to not be sticky? (Just as Basmati rice isn’t sticky?) Well, in any case, it at least was a reasonable side dish, I suppose.

For what we got in terms of service and food, the meal was really not worth it… As Emme commented, we definitely did not get good value for our money. (Especially true for Emme, whose digestive tract suffered from the meal…)

Apparently the SalaThai downtown is better, but I’m not sure I would even give it a shot if the chain can’t maintain some consistency in quality between its branches. If you have the opportunity to dine in this area, I would give this restaurant a pass and pick one of the many other restaurants around.

On a five star scale…

Ambiance: 3.5

Food: 2

Service: 3

Overall: 2.5

SalaThai on Cambie on Urbanspoon

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