Garden Thai but Without the Garden?
Probably the most underrated attribute of any dining experience has to be the atmosphere where one is actually dining. As a “hospitalitarian” and a customer service fanatic, service is obviously what I critique more rigorously than anyone else I’ve dined with, and the food itself is naturally an important metric on which to base a restaurant’s rating. Even price, or more accurately, value, is a critical factor to rank and score restaurants on, given how important getting the “best bang for your buck” is in today’s society.
However, I never want to down play the importance of atmosphere in any of my reviews. The setting in which one enjoys his meal or receives her service can definitely elevate the restaurant’s overall impression in my mind. On the other hand, a great atmosphere, like that of Church Brew Works or Six Penn Kitchen, can be impressive on its own, but if that’s the only thing a restaurant has in its corner, then why dine there?
With this in mind, read into the “Atmosphere” subsection of this review carefully, as it reveals a great deal about maybe why Pusadee’s Garden leaves some wowed, and others in disappointment.
It maybe goes without saying that Pusadee’s Garden Thai has a beautiful and exclusive garden along the side of the main building. It is entirely covered in green, with draping leaves and branches hanging overhead and shrubs, ferns, and flowers encircling and enveloping the inner courtyard. Twinkling lights provide the final touch to this oasis, and anyone dining in the garden would feel completely relaxed and secluded from the outside world.
This is the experience I wish we had had. Alas, we were confined to the inside of the building, with barren white walls and simple wooden tables replacing the tropical haven we were “promised” in the name. While I understand the capacity constraints in having a space as lovely as the garden (meaning everyone wants to dine there even though not everyone can be accommodated), the extreme contrast between the beautiful garden and the main inside dining room, where it seems effort was put in to making the room more boring, is not ideal. Not that dining in the garden would have elevated the entire restaurant’s impression substantially, but the garden would not have diminished Pusadee’s score in my mind.
Danny Meyer preaches that hospitality is a dialogue between two entities, meaning that there is a relationship between any guest and host that fosters value, goodwill, and most importantly, the feeling that the host is on the side of the guest. In this case, our service was not a dialogue, but a monologue, with the staff unapologetic, unsympathetic, and one-sided in all of their interactions with our table. Olivia’s experience (detailed below), is the perfect articulation of this narrowness of mind with regard to hospitality.
The quality of each dish certainly met my standards, if only just meeting them. The spring rolls were good, with a decent crunch to the vegetables and a warm plum sauce that brought just enough newness to each bite. I also had one of my favorite dishes ever (although one I normally make at home via Bon Appetite), Chicken Kao Soi. I don’t think it beat the one I make, but it was strong and spicy where it needed to be, and contained good portions of chicken, which is usually the downfall of a dish that relies too heavily on noodles.
The price of everything was fine, but this restaurant has changed my thinking with regard to this category. I think from now on, I’m going to refer to this title as “value”, which more accurately reflects my feelings on the price not just for the food and drink, but also for the entire dining experience.
In this case, I thought the value was quite low for what we expected and paid.
I’d like to say that there is potential for Pusadee’s. I think a traditional Thai menu in a space like this should really be better than this. I think time will tell whether improvement becomes the necessity for the restaurant, or, with the lack thereof, its downfall.
Best part of the experience?
The best experience was the exterior of the building; it was covered in ivy and had a very hole-in-the-wall like appearance, which I found charming. Also, the experience didn’t feel rushed at all; we spent a good half an hour or more chatting after our meal was finished, and we didn’t feel like we were being rushed out for more customers to come in.
What needs the most improvement?
What bothered me most about this experience was their insensitivity to food allergies. I’m rather severely allergic to tree nuts and am cautious of that when I dine out. I ordered a dish with peanuts (which I’m not allergic to) in it, but asked for the dish without the peanuts, explaining to the waitress that I have food allergies and am very cautious. However, when the dish came out, I found peanuts in it. When I told the waitress that I had asked for no nuts in the dish, she said that I should’ve told her that when I ordered the dish. Although I luckily had no problems with the peanuts in the dish (after waiting 5 minutes for a possible reaction after taking the first bite of the dish), I still think that the restaurant could be more sensitive to food allergies, especially since many of their dishes have nuts (a very common allergen) in them.
Also, the atmosphere within the restaurant was very plain and boring, unlike the outside of the building.
Also, the service was rather slow, but this did allow me and my friends to feel free to stay and chat comfortable after we finished our meal.
What kind of place is this (who would you bring here, for what purpose, etc.)?
Because it’s rather plain and the food was just decent, I wouldn’t go to this restaurant for a special occasion, like when family and friends were visiting me at Pitt. I’d probably come here if I needed a place to eat in Lawrenceville with a good friend or two.
Describe your meal for us.
I had the vegetable spring rolls, which were quite good, especially with their dipping sauce. For my main course, I had a simple dish of vegetable pad Thai.
Olivia Rauktis is a senior at Pitt studying English literature and psychology. She enjoys naps, strolls through Schenley, and cats.
Pusadee’s Garden Thai is located outside Lawrenceville on Butler Street. Their website and menu are found here: http://www.pusadeesgarden.com/