Tuesday, 26 June 2012

The Viet-Thai Experience

I hail from the North, where the most exciting restaurant in town was Montana's.  In this area, however, there are lots of great choices, from Jamaican, to Ethiopian, to Portuguese cuisine, you name it, we've got it.  One of my favourite restaurants is called Ben-Thanh, a Vietnamese-Thai cuisine that has four stores in Kitchener, Waterloo, Guelph, and Cambridge.  Jake and I have gone to the one in Cambridge quite a few times, but last Sunday evening was the first time we went to the one in Kitchener.  For this review I decided to do a bit of comparison.
Store Layout
Cambridge-The restaurant is a stand-alone and is quite visible from the road and nearby shopping plaza.
Kitchener-It is mixed in with other stores as part of a "strip-mall" plaza, and almost looks like it could be lost in the shuffle.
Cambridge- I know this may sound stereotypical, but there are only Asian servers at this location.  They are all very polite and attentive.
Kitchener- The servers were a mix of cultures.  It was interesting, because our waiter was very shy, and always hesitant to interrupt our conversation.  The man who seated us to our table was on his iPad when we arrived, and looked rather bored.  Slow night?
Cambridge- They only provide utensils if you ask for it; otherwise, chopsticks are the method of eating.  They always bring a pot of green tea to the table, as well as leave a sheet of paper and a pencil for you to write down the number of your order.
Kitchener-They provide both utensils and chopsticks right at your table, and the waiter asks you what you would like to drink, as well as takes your order personally.
Cambridge-The lighting is not garish, nor is it too dim.  The circular design of their restaurant is very likeable, and if you eat there during the day, the sun shines pleasantly through their many windows.   It has a homey feel to it.  However, there is a Buddha statue with incense, which can make some people feel uncomfortable.
Kitchener-The lighting is the same as the Cambridge location, very enjoyable.  Because they are among other stores in the plaza, their location did not allow for artistic creativity.  The restaurant is in a square shape, not unlike most other restaurants, which kind of ruins the ambient experience for me; however, they make up for it with an amazing bead curtain separating their two dining rooms, which, I must say, is pretty incredible.
The prices are the same for both of them, and in my opinion, it's pretty affordable.  For a nice meal you're looking at anywhere between $7.50-$15.00, depending on if you add a $3.00 shake.
Cambridge- They have really neat sinks that are bamboo green, and nice tall doors for stalls.  It's a comfortable place that actually smells nice.
Kitchener-It was a bit darker than the Cambridge location, but they had the same tall doors on their stalls.  I found this bathroom to be smaller and decorated slightly tacky.  It also smelled nice.
Cambridge-I have never had issues with their food.  I have had Pad Thai (both chicken and beef) on numerous occasions, vermicelli bowls, mango chicken salads, and sweet and sour pork (not to mention their amazing shrimp roll apps!)  Their food always tastes fresh and is served on lovely white dishes.  I have also tried two flavours of shake-the coconut and the avocado, both which are made with fresh fruit.  The taste is anything I have ever had before, creamy, cool, and deliciously flavourful!
Kitchener-I went with something a bit more adventurous this time, and ordered a bowl of Vietnamese Yellow Curry with Chicken and Vermicelli noodles.  I was not disappointed.  Instead of the chicken I ordered, I was accidentally given goat meat, which was not a problem for me since I had had a hard time choosing between the two originally.   The meat itself was succulent and flavourful, and turned out to be the best goat meat I have ever had.  The curry was a nice change-up for me, and I was pleasantly surprised at the lovely high-backed-low-front bowl which it was delivered in.  It was flavourful and spicy, and a wonderful creamy texture.  I would get rice with it next time, as I found the vermicelli noodles a bit hard to fight with.   Jake and I ordered a coconut shake and we delighted once again at the wonderful taste and texture.
Overall, I'd say the pros and cons outweigh themselves, and each restaurant has it's own benefit.  I personally like the Cambridge one better, with it's round shape and the lovely green tea at the beginning of the meal.
If you have never been, go to whichever one resonated with you.  It is a restaurant experience you will never forget!


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