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Jan 20, 2004 07:24 AM

Saladang Song (Pasadena) -- Avoid this place!

  • g

I was back in SoCal again last week and had a number of hound-worthy experiences. But before I get to the positive ones, I must write about this place because it was so outrageous. Not only did my sweetie, who lives in South Pasadena, recommend it on hearsay, but I saw it on the LATimes list of the 300 best. So much for hearsay and so much for the vaunted LAT. Wouldn't trust the Tribune here in Chicago so I don't know why I had to learn the hard way in LA. My error.

I have had bad food and I have had Thai food but the two combined in an atrocious experience on Saturday night. Saladang Dong in Pasadena is a factory, in the worst possible sense of the word (is there a positive one?) churning out food and customers at an astonishing rate. The doors to the very large room were constantly--and I mean constantly--opening and closing as new customers came in, old ones departed and the staff (waitresses and busboys) kept up a never-ending pace. Given how cold it was that night, that meant a regular (several times a minute without exaggeration) blast of cold air into the room. It's astonishing, particularly under the circumstances, that the staff couldn't have found another way in and out to the "patio," such as the walkway along the side of the restaurant. Adding to this, the room is glass walls, steel beams, and a concrete floor with a 40-foot (or more) ceiling. Nothing whatsoever to absorb or muffle sound. That means loud and this place was so loud we nearly had to shout across a two-top. Diners are shoehorned in, lots of large parties, and lots of noise. All accompanied by a large waitstaff running constantly to and fro.

Our waitress was so busy that she had to interrupt taking our order to do god-knows-what. We didn't see her again for ten minutes. When she returned, no apology, no explanation. Food was delivered quickly, as in: here it is, eat up, and get out. No one cared about anything other than getting the order placed and getting it delivered.

How was the food, you ask? Steamed dumplings were good, period. Fish cakes had nice flavor but were way too soggy from apparently being pre-made and kept until needed. We had three entrees and I will spare the details save to explain that we could have made better at home. When a half-pint of sweet black soy substitutes for a sauce, I'm not returning anytime soon.

(They also have a very odd "delivery" system. The waitress writes a large number on the paper table cover when she starts. When the food is ready, the busboys/servers wander around in the general vicinity, looking high and low for the right number. What kind of service is this?)

I should have checked the place out on chowhound but didn't. Shame on me. Having checked now, I find virtually nothing...a hint at the least. Later posts will highlight some of my better experiences, such as Tibet Nepal House (Nepal Tibet House?) and Trattoria Tre Venezie, both also in Pasadena. But for now, I cannot be clearer about this place. I'd suggest you avoid it; we will.

Gypsy Boy

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  1. "I should have checked the place out on chowhound but didn't"

    I believe I've read recommendations for it here.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Curt

      actually i think it has some of the best thai food in town. special weird, though good steamed fish cakes, great thai iced tea (properly made), superb versions of pad kee moew w/ slices of duck (rich, tasty, and absolutely delicious), and a nice atmosphere, and at least decent service. been there about three times, and all times have been at the very least, good. but have not been to its original sister restaurant, salandang, so can't vouch for that one.

    2. Never heard a negative word about Saladang Song or its sibling. Still, it is kind of funny to hear someone from Chicago complaining about the cold in Pasadena.

      4 Replies
      1. re: Briggs

        You're right. I knew that a Chicagoan complaining about temps in the 50s would garner a response.... Wouldn't have bothered me if I had dressed for the occasion. But shirtsleeves in an inside restaurant seemed to me adequate. I wouldn't eat outside in any city when the temperature was in the 50s, unless I had on a jacket at the least. My point--which I am sure you got, in any event--is that one doesn't expect that kind of atmosphere indoors, in Chicago, Pasadena, or anywhere else.

        1. re: Gypsy Boy

          The outdoor patio has several heaters - but on a really cold night, it would not be my choice for seating. The indoor is comfortable, but I can imagine a table very near the door can be in the draft.

          Pasadena has year round warm weather. It is unreasonable to expect that they design the place for chilly weather.

          It is usually crowded and noisy, but we do not go to expecting the ambience of Tre Venezie, and vice versa. The waiters are as busy as can be expected in many crowded popular establishments in LA - no more no less.

          We have always had pleasant experiences. We have taken family and friends and out of towners (Virginia) and everyone liked the place. We will continue to eat there.

          1. re: Suvro

            I do not expect them to design a place for chilly weather. I also do not expect a never-ending flow of traffic so that there is a constant stream of cold air coming into the restaurant. (And no, we weren't right next to the door--we were about four or five tables in.)

            Crowded and noisy is one thing. I don't have any notion why you conclude that I expected a Tre Venezie ambience at Saladang Song. I didn't. (Just because I enjoy different types of experiences doesn't mean I expect hushed quiet at every place I go.) I also didn't expect to shout across my table. And I didn't expect the waitress to interrupt our order and return without comment or apology ten minutes later.

            We have crowded restaurants here too. And we have poorly staffed ones as well. And I think it is always worth noting--regardless of ambience--if the staff is adequate to the demands placed upon it.

            I'm happy that you and others are so satisfied with the restaurant. I don't gainsay your experience and won't argue that our experiences differed. That doesn't make mine any less valid, though.


            1. re: Gypsy Boy

              I don't think anyone's saying that your experience is not valid - perhaps what they're reacting to is your call to action in the subject line ("avoid this place!") by providing evidence of why they don't think other hounds should do so. I lived in Thailand for a year and happen to agree that it's some of the best Thai food I've had - so while we all appreciate hearing your opinions, we'd hate to see other hounds miss out.

      2. We love Saladang! While we haven't been to her sister Saladang Song, I imagine the experiences are similar.

        It's true, Saladang and Song are not intimate, romantic, or quiet spaces. They are almost always packed and bustling, but that's what we expect and don't mind. They are both modern rooms with high ceilings and large capacities lending to the activity and hustle bustle. The service has consistently been genial and effeicient for years. We don't come here to be doted on.

        As for the food, one can argue about its authenticity. I personally am no expert and have no idea! That said, we have never been disappointed with anything we've ordered. In fact, the flavors are complex and original. Not to mention the presentation which couldn't be prettier - love those radishes carved into roses!

        I'm sorry you didn't enjoy your dinner. Maybe it was an off night. Or perhaps the exposed ceiling, modern design wasn't your cup of tea.

        Next time, Rambutan in Silver Lake may be a better option for low-lit, quieter Thai. Rambutan is a much smaller operation and while modern, with trip-hop music playing and young hip kids running the joint, retains an intimacy you may like better.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Suebee

          "Saladang and Song are not intimate, romantic, or quiet spaces."

          Actually, I think the patio at Song at night is one of the most intimate and romantic places in Southern California. The upward underwater spots in the reflecting pools making the walls shimmer around you, the palm trees rustling overhead, tables spaced far apart, and your own personal heater providing a little's wonderful; try it!

          Personally, I would never choose the big room at Song over the patio. If I were asked to eat there, I'd just walk across the parking lot to the original Saladang. I don't blame an out-of-towner for not knowing to do this, though. Also, none of this should be interpreted as saying the O.P. did not experience what he says he did; it's only based on my personal experiences of Song & Saladang.

          1. re: Jack

            I've never even thought of the patio at Song but now looking forward to it! Next balmy Socal night, we're there. Thanks for your advice.

        2. I've been to Saladang and Saladang Song dozens and dozens of times and have never had a bad experience. I've taken friends, I've taken family, I've taken out-of-towners, and everyone enjoyed the food and environment so much that they went back or plan to go back.

          At Saladang Song, I am a big fan of many of their nightly specials, that rambutan appetizer, the curries, and the E-saan Combination (barbecued chicken, sticky-rice, and green papaya salad). Next door at Saladang, the lunch special is one of my favorite lunches anywhere -- a very refreshing Saladang ice tea (different from Thai ice tea), salad with a peanut sauce you literally can't get enough of, choice of entree (I like the yellow curry with that melty-tender chicken), and a delightful sherbert for dessert.

          I've never seen Saladang Song quite as busy as you described, so to be fair, that might explain the difference in the service you received and what I'm used to. It sounds like there were an unusual number of large parties on the night you went. But I do want to mention that I've never found the service less than pleasant, and have certainly never felt "shoehorned in" or like I was in a factory. It is often bustling, sure, but I don't mind that at all and I've also had several quiet meals there, too, especially on that gorgeous patio.

          I am sorry to hear you had an unpleasant experience, but I will certainly be returning again and again.

          1. I only ate there once but dream of going back. I have a perfect hole in my Monday schedule for lunch there and only have to drive about 30 miles out of my way....I can't wait.

            Sorry your experience was bad.

            Do you have a great Thai place in Chicago to recommend? Email me or hit the Chicago board...