An empty restaurant is never a good sign, unless it’s dark and the doors are locked with a “CLOSED” sign hanging on them, in which case there’s a reason the restaurant is empty. This particular restaurant however, called Thai Cuisine, is very much open for business. It has large windows, warm lighting, and an interesting mix of decorations. Waist-high golden statues of Chinese-style spirits and dragons stand guard on either side of the door, next to the fireplace in the center of the room, and at various other places around the restaurant. They share their decorative purpose with several potted plants, which give relief to the mostly red, gold, white, and black color scheme. Red silk-like wallpaper with a gold pattern on it that could either be an Indian goddess or Buddha serves as a backdrop for the poster-size pictures of the same model in different traditional Thai costumes looking down from nearly every single wall. Upon entering there is that unmistakable smoky but spicy smell that restaurants offering food from East Asian cultures usually have. The tables are covered in white tablecloths with paper over them, presumably to make it easier to keep the cloth underneath clean. The chairs are comfortable and look well cared for; all in all this looks like a place that should be bustling at ten to six on a Friday evening.
But it isn’t.
The place is eerily empty, even though it has enough seating for probably forty or fifty people. Only one other table is occupied, an older couple on the other side of the room speaking quietly enough to each other that their conversation just sounds like vague mumbles. My group is easily the largest source of noise there, but it is still quiet enough in the restaurant despite us to hear the traditional flute music coming from the speakers in the ceiling with the volume turned down low. We are quickly seated by a polite but not overly-friendly member of the staff—apparently the only member of the staff present besides the chef in the kitchen—who took our drink orders and was back in less than five minutes to take our dinner orders. The waters all had a slice of lemon in them, and the iced tea came pre-sweetened but not overly so. The waitress was back less than ten minutes after we had ordered with piping hot plates on her tray, so either the chef at Thai Cuisine has some magical power that can speed up cooking times, or the food had been made earlier and had simply been kept warm until someone ordered it. Here’s hoping it’s the former, not the latter.
The food itself was generic restaurant food; each dish looked and smelled slightly different but had the same undertones. First there was peanut curry with chicken, which had a nice sneaky-spicy hot flavor that warmed the mouth but didn’t burn. Other than that, though, there wasn’t much to taste except salt, onion, and whatever oil they used to cook it in. The chicken had no flavor whatsoever. Next there was a different peanut curry dish with tofu, although this one was slightly better than the first. Same warm-hot flavor, salt, onion, and oil, but the spice was nicely complemented by the tofu and vegetables in the dish: green and orange bell peppers, zucchini, broccoli, and pea pods. Surprisingly, this dish came with rice instead of the seemingly-ubiquitous noodles that appeared in the other three dishes. After that came curry Pad Thai, which in all honesty was the best of the bunch. The chicken didn’t have the consistency of a dry sponge, the sauce was creamy and complemented by a bit of egg, the amount of spice was good and the noodles behaved like noodles, instead of sticking together in the chewy, slightly dry clumps that they turn into when left to sit out for too long. It had the same elements of oil, onion, and spice, but was less salty than the others, which let the other flavors come through better. Last were the drunken noodles, which if not the worst of all the different dishes, was near the bottom. It tasted mostly of salt, spice, and oil, the noodles were chewy and dry in some places, and the whole thing was overloaded by onion. There were other vegetables as well—carrots and pea pods—but there was double the amount of onion than the rest of the vegetables put together. And basil? What basil? The “special basil” mentioned on the menu as part of the description of drunken noodles? That’s strange. Not a single person at our table said anything about tasting any basil. As for dessert, that decision was made for us: there were no desserts on the menu.
The waitress—whoever she was—was prompt, but disappeared for the most part after she had brought us our meals. We were there for over an hour, and she came by only once to briefly check on us and refill our drinks before disappearing back down whatever rabbit hole she had come out of. She reappeared for the two customers who came in during our meal to order take-out, so it’s possible that this restaurant makes some of its money that way, but all those empty tables are not a promising sign. After the second person had come in to order take-out the waitress noticed that one of us was done eating, and checks for all four of us soon followed, along with an offer of boxes for our leftovers. How long can a restaurant with that much space survive if they have so little business that only two tables are occupied on a Friday night and they continue the practice of hurrying what customers they do have out the door? The food was filling and on the whole fairly good, if a bit salty and not quite as flavorful as some might like. For the price—around $12 per person, not counting the tip—it’s decent food. However, people who want to try it out should probably do so soon. If business is as slow as it seemed to be, then there’s no guarantee as to how much longer this restaurant is going to last.