Friday, October 5, 2007

Thai Hut - Phoenix

I'm somewhat of a hard-ass when it comes to my service at restaurants. I have certain minimum requirements that I like having met: drink glasses refilled as needed, our orders taken in a timely manner, our food being brought out in a reasonable amount of time, and the correct food at that. Tonight, well, tonight was just bad. I don't enjoy leaving no tip, but sometimes I'm so shocked/horrified/stupefied at something that happens, I just can't leave one.

Tonight, like other nights we've "cheated" on Osha Thai Cafe by going somewhere else, we treated to a bad experience. Having heard about a new Thai place on McDowell, and having heard favorable things about it, we decided to try it. Thai Hut is on McDowell just east of Central, on the south side. We parked in the overflow lot and walked over in the beautiful, cool night air. We got there a little after 7pm, and they had quite a crowd. A large group was eating in the east dining room, and most of the tables and booths were taken. Upon entering the restaurant, we where hit by a blast of arctic air from the air conditioner. It seemed like they had the thermostat set a few degrees above "meat locker". We were taking to the west side of the U-shaped dining area, past the diner-like counter with stools, and asked to wait while the cleaned and separated two tables that had been pushed together. I took the opportunity to used the restrooms and when I came out, Tara was seated. I sat next to her and started looking at the menu. When I leaned on the table, it shifted towards me on uneven footing. As this was bugging both of us to some extent, I asked if we could sit at an empty table beside us and they moved us to a stable, smaller four-top. We spent several minutes looking over the menu. In the meantime, a waitress asked for our drink order. Tara got a Pepsi, and I asked for a Pepsi and a glass of water. Our Pepsis arrived a few minutes later, but sadly, my glass of water never arrived.

After looking over the menu and debating what we wanted, we settled. We ordered appetizers of fresh spring rolls, satay, and a bowl of tom kha kai for me. Tara ordered the Crispy Pad Thai and I decided to order something different and got the Spicy Noodles (aka Drunken Noodles) asking for them to be on a lower end of the spice level if possible.

As we sat, the other tables around us started filling up, first table we'd orignally been seated at, then the one next to, and a large table seating about 10 people slowly filled as they arrived in small groups. One thing I noticed was tables that ordered after us seemed to be getting their food first. Mostly it was what appeared to be items associated with the nightly combo special, so it didn't bother me too much.

After somewhat of an extended wait, our fresh spring rolls arrived. Well, they sort of arrived. A waitress took them to the table we were seated a previously and the people there said they hadn't ordered them. She looked at us and I waved her over. Two rolls were cut into thirds and came with a very light-colored peanut sauce (almost beige) and a sweet/spicy sauce. The oddly-colored peanut sauce turned out to have what seemed like a high coconut milk content. I liked it but Tara just sort of shrugged. The rolls had shrimp, tofu, veggies, and noodles in them. They seemed to be freshly rolled and I enjoyed them with the peanut sauce.

Another dish was brought to our table, but it wasn't something we ordered, so the waitress asked around and found the right table.

Our satay arrived at the correct table on the first try, so they seemed to be learning. It came with the same peanut sauce as the spring rolls. The chicken had an odd texture, both grilled and charrred and somewhat runny. It was strange, but it was still good. Again, Tara wasn't a fan, but ate a couple skewers because she wasn't convinced the waitstaff would be able to bring us our entrees. In retrospect, ominious music should have played in the background at this prophetic statement.

After another long wait, long enough to convince me that my soup was eloping with my missing glass of water, they brought me what I will very loosely term my "tom kha kai". A bowl held a pure white liquid with visible chicken and mushrooms sprinkled with cilantro on top. Every other tom kha kai I've had has had large amounts of red spices sprinkled through it. This was white as the driven snow. Thinking that the spices might be on the bottom for some reason, I stirred it around, but no, it was still white. I tried some of it and it tasted for all the world like coconut milk with chicken and mushrooms. No spices at all. I did see one small piece of lemongrass. I pushed it away and the next time our waitress came by, I asked that it be returned and taken off our bill. She asked why and I explained. She said they must have left the spices out of it. Um, huh?!?! She offered to bring back another bowl, but I declined.

At some point, my Pepsi was refilled, but Tara's stayed empty for a LONG time until I set it right on the edge of the table. Eventually they got the message.

Next came our entrees. Well, almost. I watched them being taken to the table next to us with the large group. I heard the waitress say "Spicy Noodles" and heard the confusion from the people at the table. She set the dishes in front of a couple guys and left the table. For several minutes, I watched her go behind the counter and look over the order slips trying to figure out what was going on. No one from the waitstaff was still at that table. Finally, she goes over, takes the dishes, and tries to give them to us. I refused, saying we wanted fresh dishes. She asked why and I told her I wasn't sure if the guys had tried them. She asked "They tried them?" like she wasn't sure either. At that point, any return visits by us were not going to happen. I find it inexcusable that she'd try to serve us dishes she left unattended for several minutes at another table and wasn't sure if the people at that table had eaten some of it. I'm fairly certain that violates several heath codes. After arguing some more, she returned to the kitchen to get us freshly made entrees. At least, we hope she did. When she returned ten or fifteen minutes later, the dishes looked different, but weren't terribly hot.

I did like my noodles, but they were just a bit too spicy for me. I picked out the chicken and some of the noodles, but left most of it. Tara's "crispy" pad thai was actually my favorite dish. The noodles didn't seem crispy to me, but they were definitely not the usual noodles. It had a really good flavor and was sweet, but too sweet for her. She's more of a savory person. She likes crispy noodles, though, which is why she tried it.

So when the check finally came, I left a goose egg for the tip. The staff was busy but still somewhat friendly, but Tara was getting upset because they so busy and seemed to be impatient because of it. Trying to serve me possibly used food, though, it just not something I can live with.


Anonymous said...

I haven't been to Thai Hut yet, but for what it's worth, here are some reflections on your post:

-- Thai Hut has been open only a few weeks; usually one would want to wait a bit before reviewing a new restaurant while it works through issues like the ones you experienced.

-- Last night was a First Friday. Both the Phoenix Art Museum and a cluster of galleries on McDowell were participating. That might have resulted in the restaurant being more crowded than anticipated. Since the owners recently moved their business from Mesa to Central Phoenix, they may not be familiar with the First Friday phenomenon and the crowds it can generate.

-- I think a small tip sends a stronger message than no tip. The absence of any tip might be interpreted as forgetfulness.

Yankee1969 said...

Many good points, SB. If our waitress had been one of the younger ones, I could understand, but she was definitely older and seemed to have experience. I'd guess she probably came with the move and should have definitely known better.
As for the "tom kha kai", well, that's just a mystery for the ages.

Anonymous said...

I was at Thai Hut earlier tonight and I would wholeheartedly agree with the reviewer's assessment of the Tom Kha Gai, but not the rest of the review. The Tom Kha Gai was pure white and lacked any real connection with the authentic version. It was bland and, while not horrible, it fell far short of my expectations. As for the rest of it, I have to say that the entrees were excellent - gai pad grapao (chicken with basil/chiles) and garlic pepper chicken. I've had gai pad grapao at virtually every restaurant in town and this was among the best. Also, I should say that the service was truly excellent - quick, nonintrusive, polite and they kept the water glass filled (always a sign of good service!) Anyway, check it out.....I think you'll dig it.

Yankee1969 said...

For the most part, I did enjoy the food. Both entrees were really good and the spring rolls were nice and fresh. The less said about the soup, the better.
The service issues are what made it such a disappointing trip for me. Hopefully it was just an abberation and things will get better. In the meantime, we're happy with Osha.

Anonymous said...

I visited the Thai Hut today for lunch - my first time. I just discovered it during a "drive-by" over the weekend. I was very happy with the "Ginger Chicken." I've been to Thailand (4) times and this dish was reminiscent of good Thai Ginger Chicken I've had in Thailand. I ordered the meal to go which of course bypasses any real service issues. I only waited about (5) minutes for my food to arrive, the meal was under $8 for lunch and the taste was excellent. I'll be heading back there again this week!