Monday, March 9, 2009

Mai Thai

Oh, where do we begin with Mai Thai?

How about location... being that it occupies the space once bestowed upon my old favorite, Oriental Coast. 1230 E. Brady Street, it's a double-store front in the part of town I'd rather forget I hung out around as a teenager. Sure, Rochambeau is kinda fun when you're stoned, and there's good music to be heard at Hi Hat, but I just can't quite wash the taste of patchouli out of my mouth.

We (being myself, Andy, Lauren, and Katie) went Sunday night, with the full intention of eating ourselves into Thai Food Stupor. I would be lying if I told you that I didn't enjoy my meal at all, but I certainly wasn't in a super-orgasmic food coma by the end of our dining experience.

First, points for ambiance. Oriental Coast was sort of dank, sort of dark and dodgy, which I do truly enjoy, but seems a little too brooding for a building with a façade full of windows. Mai Thai improves upon the decor, adding a very chíc looking bar, a spritely cerulean coat of paint, flowing sheers between table-booths, and a half-cobbled wall-hanging theme consisting of stock-photos of islands, and stained bamboo and fake banana leaves. Quite the transition!

However, one of the things we all noticed immediately was the soundtrack: conversations held low due to the close quarters, and the bass-devoid droning of... Death Cab?!?

Yes, that was a Death Cab song that just ended. And then some Ziggy Marley. Let's not forget the Louis Armstrong, and maybe a little Jamie Cullum. I was starting to get the strange sensation that we had been hoodwinked: this wasn't a Thai restaurant at all! It's an OLD NAVY! Shun the non-believer! Shun! Shun!

Our clan decided on getting an appetizer a piece, with Katie getting Crab Rangoon (which is so Thai), Lauren getting Chicken Satay, Andy getting Summer Rolls, and myself getting Stuffed Shrimp.

I skipped trying Katie's Crab Rangoon entirely, for obvious reasons. I'm sure they were tasty, but somehow it seems a little...pedestrian.

Lauren's Chicken Satay was served with a nice peanut sauce, and something akin to a tangy plum sauce. The chicken was grilled nicely, but lacked any sort of depth of flavor, and had only cursory seasoning. There was no little charcoal grill provided -- either the cook was really touchy about his skills, or the insurance company didn't okay portable arson. Overall, it seemed a little dry, and a little bland. And a little cold.

Andy's summer rolls were a blend of cabbage, onion, carrots, garlic, and black pepper. Tasty, but very straight forward. They were clearly fried in too-cold oil, as they were completely saturated. Crispy, and with a nice aromatic flavor, they were dripping with grease, and quite expensive for the relatively small portion.

My stuffed shrimp, sadly, left me cold as well. Described as "Shrimp, stuffed with crab, wrapped in a rice blanket" I imagined something very different from the bland, oily, small-ish shrimp deep fried in wonton wrappers I had in front of me. Extra points for using real crab meat, instead of Krab, however, the points were quickly deducted due to the lack of...well, anything else compelling. Five tiny shrimp, ringing a thimble of sauce too small to even dip the shrimp in, all for seven bucks.

Maybe our main courses would rescue the dining experience. Well...maybe...

(A quick Strawberry Crush interlude ensues...)

So, a brief wrap-up of the entrées ordered:

Andy: Ginger Stir-Fry with Chicken
Katie: Pud Thai
Me: Rad Nah (Pan-seared noodles) with Chicken

I think everyone had a similar reaction to their meals, but I'll focus on mine...

A plate of edible-sized bits of veggies, including napa cabbage, onions, baby corn, skin mushrooms, carrots, and celery. Slices of steamed chicken breast. A few pan-seared noodles, about a sixteenth of an inch thick, and at least an inch wide. Very, very odd.

I ordered mine at a spice level of "one" on a scale of zero-to-four. I always love spice, but I've learned that unless you're familiar with a restaurant's spice scale, you should play it safe the first time. Let someone else at the table order too hot -- then you'll remember for next time.

Well, if there was any difference between a one and a zero, I can't imagine what it would be. The sauce my noodles were swimming in was too thick to be broth, but too thin to be what the menu described as "gravy." I'm just not sure what it was.

Strong flavors of garlic and soy were prominent, with a hint of black and white pepper, maybe a little basil (very, very little), and some fish sauce. I sensed a very odd sweetness, but it seemed very out of place in what was clearly intended to be a rich, savory sauce. The flavors were a bit incongruous, as the chicken had a strong poultry taste, which was not carried through the sauce, and vice-versa. Fine for a corner Chinese joint, this seemed a little lacking for a culture praised for noodles. I was left underwhelmed.

I can't say that I'd go back to Mai Thai, any more than I'd say that there's anything keeping me from going back. In a town completely choked with average Asian cuisine, you have to do something special to gain my attention, and sadly, Mai Thai just didn't do it this time. Our waitress was kind and attentive, our service timely and our food satisfactory. But high prices, small portion sizes, and lackluster flavors simply can't carry a novelty restaurant in economic times such as these.

Report Card:
Atmosphere: C+
A step up from the previous tenant, but some things seem to be Pier One afterthoughts,
and can we please pick some better dining music?

Prices: C
Average appetizer runs about $5, and average meal about $12-$14. Not expensive, but not really all that cheap, considering portion sizes.

Service: B+
Smiling waitresses, attentive and quick. No complaints.

The Food: C+
I want to rate it higher. I really, really do. But I just can't get excited about flavors that are copped from every Asian cookbook out there. There was no snap of freshness, no pop on my palette. There is better Thai to be had in the city...

Mai Thai on Urbanspoon