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Jan 27, 2009 11:42 AM

Help! Birthday Dinner this Friday, downtown, group of 16 20-somethings

Hi folks. I'm in a bit of a dilemma... we had made reservations a month ago for a birthday dinner this Friday at Mengrai Thai for a group of 16. With 1 week to go before they party, they call me up and they tell me that for a group this size, they require a minimum spend per person of $35, which doesn't even include alcoholic beverages!

(I find this ridiculous, by the way. I've worked in event planning in Toronto, and I don't remember seeing any restaurant that charges a min. spend unless you ask for private space, which we didn't. A deposit or no-show fee, yes, but not a minimum spend. Plus, most minimum spends include all beverages! They did offer to lower the minimum spend to $30/pp if we moved the party to Sunday (we can't do this), but who charges a min spend on Sundays anyway?)

Anyway, about half of the group are graduate students, and the rest I know are looking to cut back on spending during tough times. I certainly don't want to force people to pay $50+ just for dinner (after tax & tip), as we will be going out afterward too.

So, can anyone offer some other suggestions? We have fairly adventurous tastes, and 2 or 3 of us are vegetarians. Ideally I'd like some place with entrees in the $10-$20 range (a couple entrees above that are ok, so long as there are some in the lower range), where there's no minimum spend (or at least a smaller one).

I'm looking into Ivory Thailand, any recent reviews of that place? It doesn't have to be Thai food either, but we would like to stay within the downtown core, preferably close to subway or streetcar.

I'm so disappointed in Mengrai. I've met Allan, taken his cooking class, gone to his restaurants... was really looking forward to this. :(

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  1. I think Ivory Thailand would be a great choice. They can be a bit spotty on service, but the food is always good. I've noticed that they are particularly attentive to large groups (there is always one when I go there) so you may be in luck. No "minimum spend" as far as I know. Mengrai Thai really should have told you at the time of booking - completely unprofessional in my opinion.

    2 Replies
    1. re: sam_1

      Does Ivory still do the buffet.. that may be a good option as you can take what you want and know up front the exact cost...

      1. re: OnDaGo

        I think they might only have that for lunch...but good point - would double check that. I've never had the buffet - is it any good?

        I think the price point is pretty reasonable, as are the portions, even if you don't get the buffet. I also seem to remember fairly reasonably priced beer - $4 or $5 for a pint...but this might have changed.

      1. Sorry to hear about this emergency. I don't know if they have spots available (because they are very small), but you could try Weezie's. They have mains in the $14-$25 range. Should be something for everyone. A reasonably priced wine list as well.

        Hope that helps. Good luck.

        1. Thank you all for your suggestions so far, please keep them coming. Sam_1, it's nice to know you've had good experiences at Ivory Thailand, thank you for the details.

          I should correct my post -- the reservation was made 2 weeks ago, not 1 month. I didn't make the initial booking, but I agree they should have mentioned the min. charge at that time. The staff member apparently mentioned that they like to offer a "special menu" for large groups, but didn't say anything at all about pricing. Unless one has had a lot of experience booking groups, I don't think one would know that "special menu" translates to "minimum charge" or "prix fixe". Hopefully it was an honest oversight on Mengrai's part.

          2 Replies
          1. re: CuriousCat

            That's a good point - hopefully it was just an oversight. I still think that Ivory Thailand is a good bet. Let us know where you end up!

            1. re: sam_1

              Decided to go with Ivory Thailand this time, and made the reservation with no problems. As you mentioned, they said they typically have at least one group of around 20-25 any given weekend, so they can handle us for sure. For future reference, they said they don't start looking at things like min. charges or set menus unless you've got groups of 40+. I'm looking forward to trying this place, I've been meaning to go for a year!

              Despite the booking problems, I'm sure I'll return to Mengrai in the future, but I definitely won't bring a group there unless they change their policies. In the meantime, thanks again, I'll report back... can't wait to try that duck curry!

          2. Just wanted to give an update about the meal at Ivory Thailand. In short, it was wonderful!

            I had the duck curry as a main, which was terrific. Duck was tender, curry was flavourful, and the duck had been roasted prior to being included in the curry, which made the skin (which they left on.. yum) retain a hint of that crisp-ness. I also had a taste of a panang chicken curry... the base was similar to the duck curry's, but had a great peanutty flavour to it that hits you after the initial curry taste. Would recommend to peanut lovers!

            As for appetizers, the shrimp chips I had were nice (I guess they tasted a bit 'shrimpier' than some others?) and not overly greasy. The mango salad (on the house!) had a really nice dressing... a deeper flavour than I'd had in mango salad before. Savoury and refreshing at the same time. I sampled a Golden Bundle, and would definitely get my own order of it the next time... light and crispy, and the meat inside was perfectly seasoned and had a great 'bouncy' texture to contrast with the fried pastry. The tangy and spicy dipping sauce was a nice touch. I also tried a Fresh Roll, which was just okay for me... the chicken (?) inside it was a bit dry, but the flavours were otherwise tasty.

            I can't report on everyone's dishes, but our tables (they had to split us into 2 tables as there were so many of us) ordered everything from Cashew Chicken to Pad Thai to lamb curry. Everyone said they loved the food (a few even commented on it the next day, so I know they weren't just being polite), and was impressed by the value (esp. the "Happiness for 1" combo).

            The service too deserves mentioning. Despite our size and the varied things we'd ordered, the food arrived hot and at the same time. The checked in on us throughout the meal, and I never felt like we had to wait or work hard to get their attention. The manager (I think) Ha and her staff took such good care of us that I felt really spoiled! At the end of the meal, they brought out a tartufo for the birthday girl, complete with birthday candle. They let us split up the bill whichever way we liked (we just did it by table, for simplicity), and bill had an automatic gratuity of just 15%, but I know our table at least felt they deserved much more.

            All in all, a beautiful meal in a beautiful room with excellent service. None of my friends had been there before, and I'm pleased that we all had such a good time. One friend, accustomed to Thai joints like Thai Basil and Green Mango, said that "a new standard" for Thai food had been set for her!

            Hopefully this translates to a few new customers for Ivory Thailand; I know they've found one in me! It looks like their lunch buffet is available 7 days a week, so I'll have to go down there on a weekend to check it out. Thanks to you all again for your help... this party turned out to be everything I'd hoped for!

            2 Replies
            1. re: CuriousCat

              Happy to hear it went well! I love the duck curry too. I remember the first time I had it, I made my BF go back with me two other times (and this is just one week!) to order the dish, lol.

              1. re: CuriousCat

                I'm glad it turned out so well!