Restaurant Reviews

Baby Elephant Steps

Funny how many elephants were in the restaurant the night I dined at the six-week-old "Thai Kitchen & Sushi Bar" Galanga in Wilton Manors.

You know the kind. They're really obvious -- trunks, tusks, and all -- but no one seems to notice them. Either that or the pachyderms are being deliberately ignored -- like Uncle Tommy, drunk and tossing his cookies in the corner of the living room, but Mom's just going to serve Thanksgiving dinner regardless. More stuffing, anyone?

The first elephant at hand was a newborn: the laminated Herald reviews positioned on top of the place settings, which owner Paul Rattanasongnoen must have put a rush on, given that the article had been published only four days before we ate there. I can hardly argue when a restaurant posts a good notice on the wall, but I despise the practice of forcing a customer to read it. For one thing, it's like bragging. For another, it begs the patron to differ. We were more irritated, though, that the staff refused to remove them, even though they came to collect the green pottery chargers with which the table had also been set. But the servers and busboys also didn't notice when we tossed them under the table, lacking anywhere else to rid ourselves of them.

Perhaps the staff is oblivious. That conclusion certainly would explain a few of the more legitimate faux pas -- such as the bottle of Fat Bastard chardonnay left, warm and unopened, on a corner of the table. We didn't know what to make of it. Was it a former customer's? The house wine, inviting us to drink it the way we would in Italy? But then, why would it be room temperature? We learned the answer to these questions only after we already were sipping from a bottle of $24 Geyser Peak sauvignon blanc, ordered at the outset from a woefully inadequate wine list. "Oh, that's our promotion," the waiter told us when we finally asked. "It's $19."

OK, so maybe the staff simply doesn't know how to sell. But none of them seemed able to make appropriate decisions. We called one server over to show him a newly set plate that was smeared with something-or-other. It doesn't matter, he told us; it was just for decoration. Did the same hold true for the half-filled water glass, complete with lemon wedge and straw but stuffed with dirty cutlery and chopstick wrappers, presumably forgotten in a different corner by an inefficient busboy? We decided to find out and moved the offending tumbler to become our centerpiece. Rather than immediately whisking it away, the server, who clearly didn't realize that none of us actually had received water anyway, merely pushed it back and forth when the time came to set down appetizers. Even odder, when the appetizer plates were cleared, the debris-filled glass remained.

Now that's a big, pink elephant. And it's kind of a shame, because Galanga is the kind of stylish, ethnic eatery Wilton Manors needs. With its clean, modern lines countering the more exotic and tropical looks of dark, carved woods, pillowed benches, and banquettes, rattan chairs and under-lighted sushi bar, the restaurant is the perfect setting for its pretty-people clientele. I could do without the citronella candles that scent the place, but the romantic appeal of the subtle lighting is apparent. And, clearly, the crowd has been starved for local action -- on a night early in the week, the place had a small wait, and the valet told us it's always packed.

Judging strictly by some of the Thai appetizers, I can see why. The "money bags," rice paper dumplings stuffed with a minced combo of chicken, shrimp, corn, and potatoes and deep-fried, were a savory treat. Greaseless and crisp, the little pockets were accompanied by a mild cucumber chutney. You can order the money bags alone, or you can sample them on a variety platter for two that also includes a second highlight of steamed chicken-shrimp dumplings, pleasantly topped with a hit of fried garlic. One caveat, however: Although the platter seems like a great deal for $10.95, keep in mind that you get what you pay for. Two spears of chicken satay were tasty but unremarkable, and the two spring rolls were crunchy and delicious. But, truly, they were so Lilliputian we couldn't help comparing them to a baby boy's, ah, thumb.

Same goes for the "soft-shell dancing salad," a soft-shell crab crusted in a fluffy tempura batter and served over greens. The flavors were impeccable -- tartness was added via a garnish of Granny Smith apples and a lime juice emulsion -- but the crab itself was small enough to be the proverbial Waldo. As in, where is it?

But at least that crab was real. The so-called crabmeat in the spinach soup, gleaned off the Japanese menu, was the fake kind that has no flavor, a quality that lent itself to the soup. The tom yum soup from the Thai side of things fared little better. Though the shrimp in this classic, lemon grass-haunted broth were supple, tightly curled specimens, the stock tasted like a weak chicken soup further diluted with tomatoes.

The sushi was fresh, and we especially liked the Pacific roll, a mix of fish, cream cheese, and masago that gave a nod to the Thai-ness of the eatery with a spicy chili sauce. But, as with chili sauces in general, buyer beware. The green curry sauce, which you can order with chicken, beef, pork, or a shrimp-squid-scallop combo, was just plain searing, unredeemed by any sort of tang or citrus-y counterpoint. A chili-basil sauce, which you can sample with the "drunk noodle" (a nest of pan-fried rice noodles sautéed with chicken or beef), also had a spice quotient astronomical enough to qualify it for NASA.

We attained greater satisfaction from the "house originals" portion of the menu, a sort of mix-and-match arrangement. Basically, you can choose from about a dozen meat, poultry, and seafood items, then select one of the eight sauces to dress them. We found the homemade peanut sauce to be a great foil for roast duck that featured a fat-free, browned skin à la Peking duck. The garlic-white pepper sauce, a wonderfully balanced composition, complemented the tender New Zealand lamb without obscuring the delicate flavor of the meat.

Main courses -- not served family-style as is the custom in many Asian restaurants -- are individually plated with jasmine rice and spears of broccoli. But that shouldn't stop you from sharing the more successful dishes here. Nor should indifferent service ("You don't want coffee or anything, do you?") keep you from giving Galanga a go. Big, pink elephants aside, the relative sophistication of the eatery, not to mention the owner's apparent dedication to his young venture, virtually promises that problems will be addressed rather than ignored.