White plates with blue rims from William Sonoma, chef and sommelier wine glasses, napkins that read “Good Life!…Good Food…Good Times,” a large blackboard listing specials, as well as an introduction to Thai words, all add to the charming ambiance of SLA Thai Restaurant in Montclair. The name stands for Simple Love Authentic and the menu lists that another meaning for these words from Northern Thailand, where the chefs were born, are expert, knowledgeable and specialist.
The menu is small but so is the seating with about 22 seats, plus a high top for four. We started with Kanom Jeeb, Thai steamed chicken and shrimp dumplings and Gui Chai, Asian chive pancake. Both came with a soy vinaigrette that was a tad too sweet. Pad See Ew contained flat noodles with fresh, high-quality ingredients of chicken, shrimp, Asian broccoli and egg combined with a black sweet sauce. Gang Kew Wan was listed on the menu as having “green curry with eggplant, Thai basil and vegetable.” We assumed that this would be an eggplant-based dish and, while delicious, with a spicy curry sauce that popped with coconut flavor, there were only a few specks of eggplant in a bowl that contained red and green peppers, zucchini, broccoli, cauliflower, string beans and Napa cabbage. Salads, soups, pork-belly curry and crispy whole fish, as well as a few other noodle dishes are offered.
Although there is a language barrier, kudos to the staff at SLA, as they are so gracious and anxious to please. When we asked about transparent Jello-looking oval on our dessert of sticky rice with mango, mango ice cream and a sprinkling of peanuts, the owner telephoned the woman who makes this dessert so that she could answer our question. Her explanation was that it was made from a palm nut. After doing some research, we are assuming that what we were asking about was a jelly made from the fruit of a pindo palm. In any case, the dessert was refreshing and notable because of the creamy ice cream and ripe mango.
SLA is more expensive than other Thai restaurants that we have dined at, but the quality of the service and accouterments (for example silverware is replaced between courses and the aforementioned plates and glasses) are finer than you usually find at ethnic storefront establishments. SLA is open Tuesday through Sunday for lunch and dinner.
Sticky rice with mango.
Photo courtesy of Lowell Saferstein
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