7 N. 400 West (The Gateway), Salt Lake City ; 801-456-8424
A ho-hum menu and perfunctory service make for an average dining experience at this Thai restaurant.
Cuisine: Asian, Thai
Hours: M-Th, 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.; F-S, 11:30 a.m-11 p.m.; Su, noon-9 p.m.
Liquor: Full Service
Corkage: $ 10
Recommended Dishes: Ahi lettuce wraps, hoisin-glazed ribs.
January 6, 2010
Thaifoon serves up a perfect storm of excess
By Lesli J. Neilson
The automatic air freshener in Thaifoon's restroom was so strong it made me cough. It was then that it dawned on me what's wrong about the Thai restaurant. It suffers from extremes. Like that overload of fragrance in the loo, many dishes suffer from excess. The waitstaff, on the other hand, is lacking. The restaurant used to have two out-of-state sisters who have since morphed into Ling & Louies, leaving the lone flagship Thaifoon. You'd think concentrating on just one restaurant would result in great things. Think again.
Shrimp "summer" rolls ($8.50) were ice cold and the quick-to-assemble starter had inexplicably been made ahead. Normally delicate rice paper was inedible, its meager contents of shrimp, rice noodles, mint and cilantro were no match to the bulk of stale, hard rice paper.
The same over-marinated beef was used in the Mongolian beef ($14.25) and Evil Jungle Princess ($14.25) entrees. Over-marinating breaks down the meat's proteins and leaves the cooked product mushy. Pad Thai ($14.25) was one of the worst versions I've tasted. The whole plate reeked of too much fish sauce and not much else. At least the bean sprouts were fresh.
Other dishes suffered because of timing. A "Bangkok" duck breast ($15.99) must have lingered under a heat lamp, waiting for its companions because its fanned slices were dry and woefully gray. Honey walnut shrimp ($15.50) was delivered warm and soggy.
Not everything was a disappointment. Ahi lettuce wraps ($9.50), cubes of raw tuna tossed with cilantro, garlic, ginger, water chestnuts and red onions, and served inside lettuce cups were a decent and vibrant appetizer. The pork ribs ($8.99), with a sweet hoisin-honey glaze, fell off the bone. The accompanying Asian slaw was refreshing.
Dessert returned to excess with gigantic scoops of vanilla ice cream and dollops of whipped cream crowning a banana caramel wonton spring roll ($7.49) replete with cheesecake, bananas and caramel. A chocolate "volcano" ($7.49) was supposed to have a molten center, instead it was just a soggy mess. Each dessert could have fed six.
Service was a diner's nightmare: Plates weren't cleared. Clean plates never arrived. Utensils and waters weren't replenished. Even if our server had been properly trained, the eight-seat banquette would have prevented even the most seasoned server from offering efficient and proper service.
Thaifoon Taste of Asia may offer an Asian-sounding menu and be the only one of its kind, but with its ho-hum menu and perfunctory service, it might as well just be one of many Thaifoons.
Tribune's rating system
1 star Good
2 stars Very good
3 stars Excellent
4 stars Extraordinary
$ Entree under $10
$$$$ Above $25
1 bell Quiet (under 65 decibles)
2 bells Can talk easily (65-70)
3 bells Talking somewhat difficult (70-75)
4 bells Raised voices (75-80)
A bomb Too noisy for normal conversation (80+)
The Tribune covers the cost of all meals at reviewed restaurants. Star ratings are based on a minimum of two visits. Ratings are updated continually based on at least one revisit. There is no connection between reviews and advertising.
July 4, 2003
By Nancy Hobbs
When a new restaurant rides into town on a wave of PR and marketing, with expensive grand-opening celebrations doubling as charity events and press releases that freely use such adjectives as "unique" and "innovative," skeptics wonder whether there is truth to the hype. Such was the case with Thaifoon, which opened in Salt Lake City's Gateway Center three months ago. It is the fourth location (it is also in Scottsdale, Ariz., and Southern California) for a restaurant that touts itself as "rooted in the exotic and fascinating cuisines of Asia," but with a "distinctly American and modern influence of service and ambience."
My translation for that mumbo-jumbo? Good Asian food served in a colorful, comfortable setting suitable for family-style dining.
Thaifoon, subtitled Taste of Asia, is at the north end of the Gateway Center and upstairs from the Olympic Legacy fountain, which diners can enjoy (in addition to great sunsets) from the restaurant's west-facing windows.
Don't worry if you are seated elsewhere: There is plenty to please the eye throughout the restaurant, with its modern design, bold colors and intriguing artistic elements, including a recirculating "wall of water" that apparently is a signature element in all Thaifoon restaurants.
Most of the dark-wood tables are paired with attractively upholstered booth seating that can easily accommodate groups of six and eight. That fits with the Thaifoon philosophy, explained by the server on our first visit: Variety is the spice of life, so order several items and share.
We saw that the multigenerational family at a nearby table was doing just that, with the youngest members pronouncing to the rest of the group that the lettuce wraps -- named by Phoenix magazine as "the best" within a year of Thaifoon's opening in Scottsdale -- were also the best they had tasted.
Our server recommended we try the lettuce wraps for ourselves, partly because they were a better value than the Siamese spring rolls we were considering (both priced at $6.95). Indeed, there was more than enough of the wraps to share, and our attentive server returned with more lettuce leaves when they ran out before the diced-chicken filling.
What made the wraps especially good was the spicy sauce our waiter stirred up by adding hot chili sauce -- the amount determined by how you answered his "Are you wild or mild?" question -- to an orange-coconut sauce. His approach was silly, but the result was delicious.
I learned what that server meant about "value" on my next Thaifoon visit, when the dining group I assembled ordered the spring rolls. For the same price as the lettuce wraps, we got a plate with one spring roll cut into four bite-size pieces.
We also ordered a "starter" of deep-fried calamari ($7.95), served with a delectable scallion aioli sauce, and one entree each, all of them generous in their proportions.
There are more than 60 items on the Thaifoon menu, some of them fairly authentic Thai dishes. But most of them are unapologetically designed to tailor the unique flavors of Thai food to American food preferences.
Sizzling beef, for example, is sliced filet mignon, stir-fried asparagus and onions, served sizzling in a soy and Thai basil sauce. The sauce lends an Asian flavor, but it is something a cautious, meat-loving American can still recognize and enjoy.
Chicken, ahi tuna and shrimp are available in many variations, but one of the most popular dishes, for good reason, is the crispy coconut shrimp. An entree order ($12.95) comes with nine large tiger shrimp, deep-fried in a light batter and coconut, circling a minty fruit salsa. The accompanying dipping sauce, orange flavored and with a spicy bite, makes it complete.
Children have their own menu, with everything priced at $3.75.
One area where the "unique" label fits Thaifoon well is libations. Flip-card menus on every table offer Thai Mais, Long Thai Tea, Saketumis and more, and through the summer the restaurant is offering hard-to-beat Tuesday patio parties from 5 to 8 p.m., with live music, reduced-price pitchers of beer and cheap appetizers ($1 beef and chicken satays cooked outside on the barbecue, and most appetizer plates, regularly up to $8.95, only $4).
The patio is an enjoyable place in the late afternoon, with a west-facing view and an attractive firepit for cooler evenings.
Given its many draws, Thaifoon can get crowded and doesn't take reservations. Diners may call the restaurant 20 minutes before arrival and, if there is a waiting list, have their names added at that time.