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Restaurant Review (Sort of): Lanna Thai Cuisine

June 28, 2012

I’m going to start by saying that we never actually ate at Lanna Thai Cuisine.  We never got that far.  I am told that several of my friends have eaten there and enjoyed the food.  Take that as you will.  But since a major aspect of my culinary experience is how well a restaurant handles my allergies, I feel that it is important to talk about what happens when a restaurant is Doing It Wrong.

Our first impression of the restaurant was fairly good.  This location was previously a somewhat mediocre Japanese restaurant and while the decor was considerably darker, it is pretty much the same layout as the previous restaurant.  The whole look had been upgraded, with a more polished and elegant atmosphere.  And there were adorable little elephant salt and pepper shakers on the table.

It went downhill from there.

The water glasses had the restaurant’s logo printed on them.  Badly.  As near as I can tell, someone upsized a smaller logo with a drop shadow, and just threw a color overlay over the whole thing.  The result was a big blobby mess that we could barely read.  The menu had numerous typos in it, and every instance of “sautéed” was spelled “saut?ed.”  This is something that occasionally happens when you import a document from one program into another, but a good production company should catch this sort of thing.  Hell, I think the local Copy Corner probably would have caught that sort of thing.  Both are small details, but they are things that we got a good long while to contemplate while we waited for someone to come talk to us.

When our waitress finally showed up, I started asking her questions about the menu.  After the first few attempts to figure out what had peanuts or sesame in it, she called over a young man who was a little more fluent in English.  We gave him my allergy card and asked him to help me find something on the menu that I could eat.  He explained that the curries were all right out, since all of the curry sauces were prepared well in advance.  This is something I am completely okay with.  He then explained that he would have to make my dish special.  Again, totally okay with it.  And because I couldn’t have the oyster sauce they normally used, it would taste completely different from what everyone else was eating.

This, right here, frustrates the hell out of me.  Every now and then I will ask a restaurant to use a substitute in place of something I can’t eat, or more commonly leave off a particular ingredient, and either the wait staff or the chef will attempt to explain to me that the food isn’t nearly as tasty without said ingredient.  I know that a butter based sauce is considerably more tasty than an olive oil based sauce.  I know that pad thai tastes different without the the peanuts.  I damn well know that stir fry without the oyster sauce is going to be a bit plain.  These are all things that I know, intellectually.  But I don’t KNOW the difference.  I understand that the chef wants to ensure that people are served the best culinary experience they have to offer, but it’s not like I am going to be able to eat those other plates and judge the one I ordered inferior.  In some cases it has been over 15 years since I ate the item in question.  I literally cannot remember what it tastes like.

Eventually, he offered to make me a sauce out of sugar and salt, and he would just stir fry a bunch of vegetables and meat for me.  I said I needed a little more time to think about what I wanted, and we finally got to give our drink orders.  Tea for Moose, water for me.  The young man went off to fetch a glass of tea.  The older woman poured me a glass of water.  I took a single sip of it and was simply done.  The water tasted like soap.  Fake lemon scented cheap dishwashing soap.  In any other situation I would have just asked for a different glass of water, but we’d already been waiting for so long, and trying to talk to the young man about what I could eat had been so frustrating that I was just done.  We left and went someplace else.

Once again, I want to point out that we never actually ate anything at Lanna Thai Cuisine.  They may have some of the most amazing curries you’ve ever tasted.  Moose may go back at some point and give them a go, but I doubt it.  Curries aren’t really his thing anyways.  I personally will not be going back.  Every *good* restaurant I have ever been in takes my allergy card and tries to work with me.  Some of the fancier places I’ve eaten in (not that there have been all that many) have even seemed to treat the card as a challenge.  The young man who tried to help us was nice enough, but offering to make a stir fry using just salt and sugar implies a lot of things about the quality of the kitchen and the skill set of the people working in it.  Whether they don’t keep soy sauce on hand or he just didn’t think of it, I can’t say for sure.  But it’s a pretty basic thing to miss either way.  Most of the reviews I’ve read online say that the food is quite good, so I wouldn’t want anyone to pass them just because I had a bad experience.  I’m just disappointed.  I quite like Thai food, and it’s frustrating to be unable to even try a place because the kitchen can’t cope with my (admittedly numerous and difficult) allergies.

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