The familiar white takeout cartons in which at least some components of your meal from Lan’s Asian Grill will be presented are emblazoned with the words “I’M NOT SHARING!” Whimsy aside, this pronouncement might condition your expectations and enjoyment of the well-liked, well-patronized Thai/Vietnamese eatery inconspicuously located just north of NAIT in the inevitable strip mall. And from the online raves the place has received, expectations may be well-inflated.
Those takeout cartons are part of Lan’s cost-containment measures, neatly spelled out on notices pinned up around the restaurant. In order to provide good value for money in the face of escalating overhead, the owners are cutting down on expenses like dish washing and front-end labour, relying on a counter rather than table-side service model. The gesture is appreciated and, despite not having servers in the conventional sense, friendly staff still work the sizeable dining area to clear plates, check in on your enjoyment and poll you on your favourite dishes.
These measures seem to be working as Lan’s bill of fare comes in a few bucks cheaper than the average Thai menu, ranging from $11 to $14 per dish. They also seem to be focusing on a few offerings—curries, pad Thai, stir fries and soups—with variation based on your choice of protein (beef, pork, shrimp, chicken or tofu), and with a few Vietnamese dishes and appetizers thrown in for good measure. My co-diners and I managed to sample most of the menu for less than $20 per person (not including Thai beer to wash it down). Endearingly, we were assigned the code-word SUPERWOMAN so we’d know when our food was ready. It’s fair to say that Lan’s does not skimp on personality.
Appetizers seemed a good place to start (though everything arrived at once): the salad rolls—rice wrappers plump with noodles, shrimp, basil and lettuce with hoisin dip—and green onion cakes were representative of their ilk, and entirely respectable. My co-diner, let’s call him “Jerry,” protested that green onion cakes ought to be served with straight-up hot chili paste, but he made do with the sweeter, less fiery variant.
Everyone seemed to agree the faintly sweet, rich green curry with sliced beef, red pepper, zucchini and bamboo shoots was the tastiest dish, with its latent fieriness, coconut aroma and hint of anise. It’s the kind of dish that calls for a big side of jasmine or coconut rice so you can keep sopping up the delicious sauce once all the meat and veggies have been gobbled up. By virtue of its soupiness, the green curry was served in an actual ceramic bowl with its rice in a side dish.
The cashew stir fry with shrimp had a generous portion of both in a stickier spicy sauce, also with red pepper and onion, while the Thai basil stir fry featured flavourful sprigs of the eponymous ingredient, ground pork, red pepper and onion. It all tasted great, with just the right amount of chilies, garlic and lemongrass, but side-by-side comparison did point out the fact that the entrées tended to contain the same veggies. The pad Thai provided contrast, with lots of egg, chicken, tofu and bean sprouts tangled up in its darkly sweet and tangy noodles. But because the stir fries were served in cardboard containers along with their rice, they seemed harder to divvy up among four people. Luckily, none of my group found cause to say, “I’M NOT SHARING!”
Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the no-frills approach, the cost savings and the speediness with which our entire meal reached our table. But the trade-off is that Lan’s experience is perhaps more akin to a quick-fix Asian takeout place than a full-on Thai restaurant, which may have been what my co-diners and I were hoping for. There’s nothing wrong with what the friendly folks at Lan’s have on offer, but it’s better to know and adjust your expectations accordingly before you make the trek NAIT-ward.
Lan’s Asian Grill
11828 – 103 St,