Saladang is so popular that they actually opened up a second enormous restaurant next door, Saladang Song. On a Saturday night, both places were packed. There was a 40 minute wait at Saladang, so we hopped on over to Saladang Song ("song" means "two" in Thai, and while we're at it, "saladang" means. . .hmm, I can't find anything. Does anyone know?). I'm not sure why there were so many folks waiting at Saladang when there was no wait next door. I wonder if there's a difference in the food?
Dusk on the patio
The outdoor patio at Saladang Song, which seems to be where most of the tables are, is incredible! It's surrounded by a 30 foot wall made of thin concrete pillars and shiny silver brushed steel panels with cool designs cut out of them. As an added bonus, the heating poles sort of match the wall. You'll feel like you're dining in a fortress.
I started my meal with the taro cake appetizer--it was really hard to choose amongst corn cakes, fish cakes, and taro cakes, but I decided to go with something I hadn't tried before. Taro is always on the dry side, and unfortunately these taro cakes were no exception. The clear sauce that accompanied them had only a hint of sugary, vinegary flavor that didn't add much to the cakes in terms of either flavor or moisture. The texture was a little strange because the edges of the cakes had a sort of wrapper that was on the tough and chewy side. The texture of the cake itself was a nice contrast of small chunks of taro and smoothly blended bits. The so-called cucumber salad that accompanied it was nothing more than decorative slices of cucumber in a small ramekin. At least the presentation was nice, and I saved half to eat as leftovers. Taro is hard to do well. It needs to be moistened up somehow so it loses that stuck-in-your-throat dryness--it's even drier than a baked potato.
In case you didn't know, taro is a large, thick root vegetable. It's white with purple flecks and has a sweet flavor. You'll find purple desserts like ice cream and smoothies that are taro flavored. Taro strips are also commonly dipped in batter and deep fried. You can also buy taro chips at organic grocery stores and co-ops.
Saladang Song's pad Thai is unlike any other pad Thai I've had. The noodles are wrapped in egg. It's much like an omelet, but the noodles aren't mixed in with the egg-they're pretty much separate from it. I liked the unique approach to pad Thai, but I didn't really like the dish--with all the egg, plus the carrots and broccoli that were mixed into the noodles, the noodles themselves were in short supply, and the noodles are usually my favorite part. These noodles were a little mushy, though--putting cooked noodles into a moist, steamy egg wrapper probably keeps cooking them long after they've left the stove, and that didn't seem to be taken into consideration.
The calamari were fried in a very light and crispy but greasy batter. Using this kind of batter instead of the thick, peppery kind was a good match for the dipping sauces. I seem to be on a fried calamari kick lately, and I've found that a good dipping sauce can make this common dish a little more exciting. Also, I've noticed that more restaurants seem to err on the side of batter that is too salty rather than not salty enough. The batter was just right here, and I enjoyed the sweet and sour sauces with a kick that were served on the side.
The service was great. Our waitress told us about several specials, including one that they only make once a year--it was a crab dish, which I can't eat, so that went in one ear and out the other. She seemed very passionate about the food. When my friend ordered a chicken dish, she said, "it's very plain, is that okay?" which it was, but it was great of her to ask. Saladang has a varied menu that includes a few dishes that are more likely to appeal to someone in your group who isn't a fan of Thai food. Our food arrived with stunning speed--it couldn't all have been made to order, but it was hot and seemed fresh, and the restaurant was packed so I knew it probably wasn't lounging around under heat lamps.
The chicken was very plain, as promised, but the dipping sauce was good enough to eat straight, and we licked the bowl clean.
Mango sticky rice
The mango sticky rice was the best I've ever had--I just can't get enough of this warm, gooey, toothsome, sugary, salty, juicy treat. The extra sauce on top is what makes Saladang's extra good.
Saladang Song's food is not the best Thai food I've ever had--I like the hole in the wall places in North Hollywood better. The atmosphere at Saladang Song beats out all of those places though, and their prices are surprisingly competitive (most entrees are $8-12, and appetizers are $6-9), making it a better choice for a date or a nice evening out.
Saladang Song also serves breakfast--I've never had Thai breakfast food before, and it sounds like an interesting brunch alternative!
Do you like the food at Saladang Song is better than I did? Leave a comment!
383 South Fair Oaks
Pasadena, CA 91105
Fri, Sat 7:00am-10:00pm