Thida’s Thai Review

by TRH on February 13, 2013

in News and Reviews

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Note: This review contains observations from several visits.

Thida’s Thai is an odd place. It’s nestled in what I think used to be a Salisbury House (someone with a longer memory than mine please correct me if I’m wrong) and still has a lot of that diner booth interior. Walking in the door you find a cramped and skinny place with odd shadows and an uneven floor. A pie cooling shelf still sits on the front counter. Waiters do their best to doge the patrons but in the winter months with heavy coats and scarves things can get positively claustrophobic. Over the years I’ve been a regular patron they’ve slowly tried their best to Asian-ize the décor a little but they’ve really only succeeded a bit in the depths of the restaurant. Honestly though, any Winnipeg food lover knows that if you require great ambiance you’ll miss the best Asian delights the city has to offer.

I’ve been a regular patron at Thida’s since they first opened at that location almost ten years ago. Several friends lived in nearby apartments so a typical Friday night often started with takeout curry or noodles. These days it’s more of a lunch stop for me but I’d say I still end up there at least ten times a year. Being close to Broadway Thida’s does a roaring lunch business most days and caters to the crowds with a daily special that is usually a stirfry or curry served with a side of rice and two spring rolls for $10. That’s a pretty great lunch for the price and probably 75% of the people in there at lunch are having the special. The problems come when you order a la carte at lunch, but more on that later.

The Great:

Thida’s appetizer menu is somewhat more substantial than many thai places and most offerings come with their delectable (and justifiably famous) peanut sauce. The sauce is smooth but holds onto enough peanut texture left to give it some body. On this particular visit we went for the Stuffed Chicken Wings which are deboned wings that are stuffed with spiced ground chicken and vermicelli noodles then battered and deed fried. The mix of textures as you bite into a peanut sauce coated wing is delightful and the whole thing almost melts into your mouth as you chew. That said, they often take a while so if you’re in a hurry don’t order them. Other favourites from past visits include the Shrimp Rice Rolls, Crab Wonton (crab rangoons) and the Miang Kham Lettuce Wraps.
Matsaman Curry is one of my favourite dishes and Thida’s consistently makes one of the best in the city. The brown curry is velvety on the tongue and contains perfectly cooked potato and beef and that wonderful blend of spices that give it its distinctive taste. So many restaurants overcook either the potatoes or the beef for matsuman so the texture becomes completely underwhelming. I was happily feeling notes of cardamom and tamarind for the rest of the day. Pad Phet was also delicious with the ratio of seafood to curry somewhat more generous than elsewhere and the mix of prawn/calamari and mussel being of particular delight to one of our diners.

The Middling:

Serious thai aficionados have come to look down on Pad Thai, it’s become the breakthrough fast food of thai cuisine and is so often terribly made. Many places make it too sweet (especially if they aren’t a true thai restaurant) to the point where it’s basically candied noodles. All that said, I still have a happy place for it in my heart and it’s usually quite decent at Thida’s. Not so on this visit. I should preface this by saying that I do NOT like bean sprouts. For whatever reason I don’t love the texture or the taste of them. The fact that they’re difficult to clean perfectly while simultaneously being a frequent e-coli contamination vector simply confirms to me that I should avoid them. Usually I ask for them on the side for pad thai and indeed many restaurants serve the dish this way to begin with. On this particular visit I forgot. Obviously that’s not the restaurants fault. However the plate of pad thai that arrived had sprouts on the side AND mixed in with the noodles. So many sprouts were mixed in with the noodles that even the sprout lovers at the tables were taking some of them out. Honestly 70% of the dish by volume was probably sprout and the protein was nearly nonexistent. Perhaps Pad Thai was the special of the day and there was a giant badly mixed wok full of it that we got a portion of. Perhaps noodles were running low. Either way it was honestly unacceptable. If they couldn’t make us a fresh portion of the dish properly they should have said so and let us get another noodle dish instead.
Mee Krob is also fairly consistently middling at Thida’s with the ratio of sauce to noodle always too low. I like to be able to take my portion of noodles etc and be able to spoon sauce over top. This is also how everyone else I know likes to eat meek rob but my last few times ordering it at Thida’s I’ve been lucky to get a spoonful or two of sauce that hasn’t soaked completely into the bottom third of the noodles. Eating at Vientiane the next week reminded me how much I love a good saucy mee krob.
The portion sizes on both noodle dishes were particular skimpy.

The Unacceptable:

As mentioned Thida’s is busy for lunch, particularly Fridays. They desperately need to have at least one more staff member on at Friday lunch. I don’t know if this person needs to be a dedicated server or a dedicated kitchen person so that one of the servers doesn’t constantly have to be going into the kitchen for whatever he was doing. Given their roaring takeaway as well I suspect it’s the latter.
One recent visit was incredibly frustrating as a customer. The restaurant was semi-full when I got our table and quickly filled up behind us but for whatever reason our table was ignored at first. We eventually got our beverages and menus and quickly flagged someone down to order as we could see that a (full) six person table would be ordering soon. We sat back and waited and were eventually greeted by the sight of practically every other table in the restaurant being served before our appetizer even arrived.
I know getting your appetizer with the other dishes isn’t that unusual in a Winnipeg Thai restaurant and I’d also had experience with the stuffed chicken wings being a time consuming dish but it was fully 50 minutes before we saw our appetizer and our curry arrive at the same time. I get that many of those people were having the quicker to prepare special and we were a la carte etc. This by itself was a bad but not OMG terrible customer service experience. What took things to the next level was the fact that our last dish, the terrible Pad Thai described earlier in this review took another 10 full minutes to arrive while we watched a second six person table who had ordered fully 30 minutes after us be served their lunch specials. Here’s the kicker, at least four of those six people were having pad thai that should have been on our last plate instead. Given the popularity of the dish I suspect this had happened elsewhere in the restaurant as well. I mean… I make Pad Thai regularly. Given that they have the sauce premade by the cauldron I’m sure and that their chicken is probably cooked in large batches I’m fairly sure they should have made our dish 4 times over in that period. Honestly it soured the meal completely.
We weren’t the only people suffering either. A group of 7 had made a reservation and arrived just as we were finishing. One of the servers had seated both big tables so these poor folks who were clearly having some sort of reunion lunch had to sit at two completely separate tables on opposite sides of the back area. Thinking back that’s probably why they were trying to do rush orders on the two six person tables but anyone with a brain would guess that a six person group is probably going to eat slowly and chat/bs a lot during and after so there’s no way you’ll get them out in ~40 mins like they would have had to to actually honour the reservation.
I wish I could say this was an isolated incident but I’d say that I probably have a customer service complaint about 50% of the times I visit. Usually it’s something minor but sometimes it’s a pretty severe one and it leaves a bitter taste in my mouth for a few months. Several years back I was eating lunch with my mother before an afternoon meeting and when we said we were in a hurry after waiting 60 mins for a simple lunch our chicken was rushed out nearly raw. Another take-out visit saw two of the dishes missing completely.

I should also point out that in my mind the dining room staff is usually not the problem here. It feels like the kitchen isn’t the most organized (not surprising given how tiny it must be) and things may sometimes be lost/messed up until a customer inquires. Have you had any similar experiences? Let us know in the comments below.

The Skinny:

Thida’s Thai
78 Donald Street (just south of Broadway)

M-Th: 11-9
Fri: 11-10
Sat: 4-10
Sun: 4-9
Delivery after 4pm

Overall: Despite all of these complaints I still recommend a visit to Thida’s. Their control of flavours in the curry dishes and overall quality of appetizers is generally top notch. Honestly my only general complaint about the place is the service, usually all the food is top notch but on these visits we just had non stop issues. I would honestly recommend only trying them at offpeak hours though. Perhaps I’ll just say that it’s best to visit early in the week for a 1pm lunch or to stick to the less mental dinner hours. Alternatively try takeout sometime, you won’t regret it (just check your order before you leave.)

Best Dish(es): Matsuman curry is by far my favourite thing on the menu, but do try one of the appetizers with the peanut sauce.

Portion Sizes: Small compared to most thai places. Pad Thai portion was roughly half that of my meal at Vientiane several days later. Consider an extra dish or appetizer if you have hearty eaters.

Prices: Reasonable plates. $10.95 fairly standard for chicken/beef/pork curries and noodles though as mentioned portion sizes are fairly skimpy compared to some. Seafood is more expensive but not ruinously so.


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