Review by Lavachickie
Thai food is a love of mine. That's why I ate lunch at Thai Beer in West Salem on Tuesday, and then dinner tonight on South Lancaster.
And believe me, I'd do it again.
I'll admit, I'm not a fan of the West Salem location, and up until this week, it was mainly an ambiance issue. The food is consistent with what is served on South Lancaster (not to mention Jasmine Thai in Lincoln City which is owned by the same folks). The staff is efficient and friendly. But the experience is somewhat hollow due to the lack of invigorating decor. The walls are white (not by design, but by default), the tables and chairs are mismatched... forgive me but being that I can cook, I really appreciate an eatery that creates a full experience including sights and sounds surrounding my meal.
To be fair, the lunch offerings at West Salem Thai Beer have their up sides: a small bowl of curried vegetable soup is brought to the table immediately for a fresh taste warm-up. The lunch menu is diverse and well priced -- but you can still order from the dinner menu, as my lunch pal and I proved by grabbing a #10, which is the appetizer combination of chicken satay, eggrolls, fried tofu, and wontons accompanied by a peanut sauce, a plum sauce, and a cucumber relish.
My lunch was a bit of a disappointment because the chef had a little too heavy of a hand with the fish sauce in the sweet and sour sauce that my vegetables and chicken were swimming in. When I took the first bought I recoiled, wondering if my dish had been prepared with fish; it was that strong. I cleared my palate with water and a bite of plain wonton, and tried again. My friend asked me what was wrong as I wrinkled my nose with the second and third bites. She tried, and agreed the balance of flavors in the dish was way off.
I would have sent it back, but this was the lunch hour and we were on a schedule. Instead I shared a few bites from my friend's noodle dish which was much better. My leftovers went to the dogs, literally.
This evening was a different story. We visited the much better known South Lancaster location. The service is always swift and efficient, although I'd never say I felt warmly welcomed there. The gentleman I've seen there consistently for some time looks like he could be Ben Stiller's evil cousin. He's always effective, but he's not exactly... warm. But he hustles. And he can be quite jovial; on this night we overhead him spoofing some diners who had asked about the origin of the name Thai Beer. He explained they didn't have money for a new sign when they started, so they repurposed the letters of the sign that was there for The Bagel Express. One of the diners pointed out that couldn't be true, because there was no "i" in the former name. The staffer said yes, he promised to come up with something different next time.
But he never answered the question as to where Thai Beer originated from. Ancient family secret, perhaps.
We are somewhat creatures of habit here: we always start with the combo appetizer. My husband enjoys the pineapple fried rice as his entree: served in a cut and hollowed half pineapple is a mound of luscious rice, stir fried with a mix of sweet and savory items such as raisins, cashews, onions, peppers, cilantro and, of course, pineapple. It comes with exactly two full sized shrimp and a modest portion of chicken. Each bite is slightly different thanks to the mixture of flavors.
While I usually get the Massuman Curry, tonight I deviated and chose the Evil Jungle Noodles with chicken. A thin sauce of red curry, coconut milk and peanut lightly coats brocolli, carrots, onions and mushrooms with yummy flavor. Well herbed with basil, the dish is a good mix of flavors, and when ordered with "medium" heat it leaves a tingle on the lips.
One warning: their peanut sauce is a very thick sauce, almost like peanut butter. So do not order any of their dishes that say topped with peanut sauce unless you want a dish which is positively drowned in a very heavy, not-very-complex peanut sauce. Every time I've seen someone in my party order a dish with the peanut sauce, it's not been a good thing.
The ambiance there is better; still not anything to get excited about (if you want a rich, sexy surrounding to go with your Thai, hit Red Ginger in Keizer -- I went with a friend from work and almost wished we were on a date so we could play footsie under the table amidst the low light, rich reds and sensual music). At least the walls there at the South Lancaster Thai Beer aren't white, but rather a warm peach color.
Salem is lucky to have some options when it comes to Thai, and I'd recommend you give Thai Beer a try.