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SalaThai

102-888 Burrard Street, Vancouver

review by Brian Fukushima

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Upon entering the Burrard Street location of SalaThai restaurant, the senses are already put to very pleasurable work. The restaurant is elegantly designed—with an open and welcoming floor plan, warm wood-paneled walls, graceful murals, portraits of the King and Queen of Thailand and pieces of Thai-inspired art. Soft and welcoming traditional Thai music greets you as you take your seat. The servers, salathai_4dressed in traditional Thai attire, are attentive, prompt and courteous.
While all these accoutrements surely add to the dining experience, the true test of a restaurant’s mettle lies in its food. SalaThai’s menu is extensive, with a vast array of appetizers, entrées and desserts available. The dishes are served on exquisite blue and white china, often with the restaurant name revealed in the pattern upon completion of the food.

For an appetizer my dinner companion and I ordered the vegetarian spring rolls—stuffed with minced vegetables and vermicelli, served with homemade sauce. It’s difficult to go wrong with spring rolls. These were more than adequate and inspired me to be more adventurous the next time around.

Always in the mood for a good curry, I took my self-imposed challenge and ordered the Gaeng Pet Yang—sliced roasted duck with bamboo shoots, pineapple and red curry in coconut milk and basil leaves. Having absolutely no problem with spicy food, yet having no wish to injure myself, I requested a medium heat. It was exactly what I expected, a little bite but not near what I would consider hot. Next time I will be sure to request full heat. The duck was incredibly flavourful and tender, a good contrast to the stiffer texture of the bamboo shoots. With a side of coconut rice, this was a dish I enjoyed immensely and will definitely order again in the future.

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In this reviewer’s eyes, curry is best served with a nice cold beer. SalaThai offers imported Singha Beer from Thailand. Named after a mythical lion-like creature, Singha is anything but fierce. The beer is light and smooth with a slightly higher alcohol content than most domestic North American beers. It is refreshing and complements the spicy food.

While there are a good number of vegetarian dishes on SalaThai’s menu, the staff is also happy to oblige with substitutions. My vegetarian dinnercompanion was dismayed to find a lack of meat-free Pad Thai (a traditional Thai noodle dish with shrimp, egg, tofu and beansprouts), but our server gladly offered to omit the seafood and fish sauce from the dish.

SalaThai offers a superb dining experience at a modest price. With a wide variety of items, including house specialties and daily specials, there is likely something to pique the interest of any Thai food fan.

Typhoon

2160 Main Street, Vancouver

review by Max Mitchell

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A strange thing happened when I told one of my fellow reviewers that I would be dining at Typhoon. She looked at me and said, “Why would you be going there? I never see more than 10 people in that place.” That being said, I was a little nervous about the quality of the establishment. Thankfully, Typhoon turned out to be one of the most satisfying dining occasions I’ve had in months.

Upon walking through the front doors, my nose caught the scent of sweet ginger in the air. A method of culinary foreshadowing, no doubt. As our server seated us, Tom Waits’ distinctive growl crept its way through hidden speakers into the dimly lit restaurant. This style of music seemed somewhat out of place given that the decor was a fusion of South Asian traditional and urban minimalism.

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When taking our drink order, our server identified that our table was wobbly. Before I could say, “Don’t worry about it,” the problem was fixed and she was off to fetch our beverages. It was at this point my dining companion and I realized the music situation was getting stranger. High-energy funk music had begun to play. Then our beverages arrived and we placed our order.
As an appetizer we ordered the deep-fried tofu. Normally when I think deep-fried, I picture greasy, heavy foods that leave a brick in your stomach for days afterwards. But this tofu was lighter than air, splendidly complemented by a sweet and tangy dipping sauce that contained a hint of spice. By this time, ethereal house music was playing and the volume had increased by about three notches.

My entrée was the cashew nut chicken—a delicious chicken dish served with rice, nuts and vegetables. It practically reaches off the plate and whispers in your ear “Enjoy me thoroughly.” The chicken, lightly sauced, had more flavour than I initially suspected it would. It was almost as if it had been marinating since it was an egg. The taste of fresh vegetables and rice worked masterfully with the chicken. At first I thought it wouldn’t be enough to satisfy my insatiable hunger, but before I was half way through, I could feel my stomach reaching its limits.

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For dessert I had deep fried banana with mango gelato. Now, I do not partake in bananas or gelato very often, but I will say I could not have finished off my meal any better. The sweet, fruity tastes of banana and mango could not have more perfectly juxtaposed the tang and spice of my meal.

As my friend and I made our way to the doors, I felt completely satisfied by our meal. Neither heavy nor light, expensive nor cheap, rich nor bland, Typhoon was a perfect meal. Now if only they could do something about their taste in music.

Clove

2054 Commercial Drive, Vancouver

review by Margaret Tan

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Despite their obvious reflection of the restaurant, bathrooms are rarely critiqued in reviews. At Clove they are both immaculate and pretty. Fresh orchids complement concrete countertops embedded with iridescent marbles, and nice-smelling handsoap is an added detail often ignored by restaurant owners.

An eclectic combination of colour and furnishings bring intimacy and comfort to Clove’s interior. With translucent textile dividers suspended from the ceiling, the space is activated when individual sections come to life with people. The music is an array of quiet contemporary electrobeats and blips running from Björk to Portishead.

But Clove’s main focus is its food. On the agenda tonight is calamari salad, gyoza, mushroom soup, butter chicken and turon to finish. The calamari salad arrives in a large bowl filled with fresh organic greens topped with a flavourful lemongrass, chili and soy dressing. This is the best calamari I have ever had—tender and tasty. The dressing, however, is overpowering and a good portion of the greens lie drowned at the bottom of the bowl.

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The dishes continue to arrive. First is the gyoza—stuffed with Asian vegetables and ginger, accompanied by a divine dipping sauce of sesame seed and chili oil. These contain just enough spice to whet your appetite. Next, Clove’s mushroom soup arrives garnished with a dollop of rich cream. With its spiced Asian kick, this soup is spoon after spoon of substantial flavour and texture. Perhaps a bit greasy and lacking in fluff, the side of naan compares less favourably.

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And the butter chicken. Sweet and spicy, the tender chicken breast is not overpowered by the tandoori. The basmati rice is fluffy and mildly seasoned. The side salad is a sprinkling of fresh organic greens and tomato with a subtle tangy dressing. I found myself returning to each little section of food until all disappeared, seemingly at the same time.

And, of course, such a fine meal is not complete without a little sweet for the tooth. The turon appears in time for our second-wind appetite. It is the star of the evening—deep-fried bananas wrapped in a crispy Asian crepe and drizzled with a warm milk chocolate sauce.

Ranging from $2 to $16, the menu at Clove is reasonable. Desserts, in particular, are the least expensive—with prices starting at $2, I doubt you can find a better price in town.
Clove’s menu items are not just ordinary western dishes disguised with Asian spices and served with chopsticks. They are what other fusion restaurants should aspire to—an appreciative amalgamation of cultures, tastes and interpretation. And, of course, attentive service and nice smelling hand soap are always helpful.

Banana Leaf

820 West Broadway, Vancouver

review by Veronique Meurgues

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One’s senses are delightfully stimulated when entering Banana Leaf restaurant—colours, textures, flavours and fragrances invite you in to explore the rich culinary culture of Malaysia. Inside, the tropical décor replete with palm leaves, hand-made ornaments and traditionally patterned sarongs, creates the illusion of dinner on a sun-drenched beach in Malaysia. Hardwood floors and a sculpted wooden window frame contrasted with vibrantly coloured walls add to the adventure.

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Banana Leaf offers a unique range of Malaysian dishes—from the well-known Satay Chicken to Sambal Green Bean (a dish consisting of stir-fried crunchy green beans with shrimp in chili, garlic and dried shrimp paste), to fragrant Rendang Kari Beef. The house specialties and dishes are influenced by South Asian cuisine and offer savoury combinations from varied culinary traditions.

You can choose from 12 different sauces to accompany Banana Leaf’s vast selection of seafood which may be steamed, grilled, seared or caramelized. One such sauce, the Assam sauce, consists of tamarind, ginger, lemongrass, garlic and chili. Ideal for accenting fish and seafood, it gives a unique and subtle perfume that seems to define Malaysian cooking.

This eclectic mix of spicy and sweet tastes makes Banana Leaf a culinary adventure that is well worth taking.

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