Brian and I rarely get to eat out sans kiddlets; usually we have to strategize so that a restaurant has something bland and colorless on its menu to satisfy the little people. But one evening we found ourselves liberated from this restriction (kiddos at Granny's house) so we decided to try a new place that would have some spicy food: Banh Na Laos and Thai Cuisine out on Washtenaw.
The meal we had was of a mixed quality: the Tom Kah Kai soup was one of the best I've ever tasted--rich and thick with coconut milk, perfect balance of galangal and and lemon grass and spicy without searing your throat shut. It really nailed the hot/sour/salty/sweet balance. I'd be tempted to drive across town for a quart of this stuff alone. We also had some decent drunken noodles with chicken, basil and red and green peppers. I'm a sucker for big wide rice noodles and they were generous with the basil.
The other two dishes were not of the same quality: the green papaya salad was actually inedible due to someone's extreme enthusiasm for the dried shrimp. Way, way too many. Dried shrimp, like fish sauce, is not something to be enjoyed on its own, but mixed in the proper proportion with other seasonings like lime juice, it can transform a dish. But overload it and you are left with a fishy mess. Brian took one taste and wouldn't eat any more. I tried to extract some threads of green papaya, but gave up after realizing the taste approximated licking the floor of a fish market.
The other dish was just sorta so so--a Musselman curry. It didn't taste bad--maybe a little too much cinnamon in the sauce and not enough ginger or fish sauce to cut through the richness of the coconut milk, but my big gripe was that it was just butt-ugly. Looking at the ingredients (pork, potatoes, onion, red and yellow apples, peanuts, coconut milk) didn't make me expect a beautiful dish, but unfortunately the kitchen decided to use purple onions which did no favor to the appearance--the purple bled into the light brown sauce to make it Puce colored. (Go on, click that link to see puce and also discover that puce is the official color of the Christian Heritage Party of Canada. Those wacky Canadians!)
Would you want to eat something that color?
The atmosphere of the place is sadly lacking--this was heightened by the fact that we were the only customers in the restaurant and Brian pointed out the fish tank behind my head that was empty of fish and had about 2 inches of stagnant algae clogged water sitting in it.
And the final nail in my decision to keep this restaurant (for its soup and noodles) in my take-out menu file but not on my visit-in-person list were the napkins.
I LOATHE fabric softener and the cloth napkins at the table were soaked in the stuff. They left their stinky fumes on my hands and overpowered the pleasant scent of the dishes we had ordered. Believe me, "Mountain Fresh" scent does nothing for Thai food.
I was just doing a little catch-up blog reading and it turns out that a while ago Kitchen Chick reported that Bounce fabric softener sheets have worked well as a mouse repellent in her kitchen! They also work well as a Kate repellent in a restaurant.
Three or four customers came in while we were there to pick up groaning bags of take out. Whether it was the sight of pond scum or the fragrance of the napkins that turned them off to the in-person dining experience, I don't know. But I do want some more of that soup and I think I'll follow suit and pick some up and flee the premises next time.