Nothing urks me more than paying too much for a mediocre meal (except paying full price for something that goes on sale two days later, but that’s a whole different subject). Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened last night.
I visited the new Mint Leaf Restaurant on University Ave. in Palo Alto, right next door to the Borders bookstore. They label themselves as an Asian noodle house, and since the Zao Noodle Bar’s food down the street is barely edible these days, I figured I’d give them a try. But the moment I sat down and read the menu, I had a feeling I was in for trouble. There were barely any noodle bowl dishes except for the few pho options and couple of Thai stir fry noodles. Most everything was an a la carte dish that would require a separate order of steamed rice.
I’ll start off by saying that the service was good. The two ladies working there made sure our food was alright and kept our water glasses full all through our dining experience. The space is very airy, contemporary and clean. A bit cavernous with its high ceilings, so it could get noisy (if the place ever got full, which it wasn’t).
We started with the Crispy Tofu appetizer, which was very standard. Good crisp crust but the tofu was pretty ordinary. The dipping sauce didn’t seem to fit the dish. It was too sweet and would’ve benefited from something a little more salty and fresh (maybe a fish sauce with chilies and lime?).
We then went on to the Drunken Noodles and Thai Basil Chicken. All the dishes were a blend of Thai, Chinese, and Vietnamese flavors all thrown together. A bit of a muddled mess, though I think they were going for a “fusion” vibe. They were good, but all the flavors competed so heavily with each other that it just ended up tasting too salty, too sweet, and just plain over seasoned. And there was nothing new or inventive about their flavors.
The meal wasn’t terrible. But when we got the bill I knew I wouldn’t be back. We had two small entrees and a tofu appetizer…and the bill came to $30 (w/o tip)! We didn’t even order any drinks or steamed rice! And the food was hardly authentic. Now, I don’t want to seem cheap, but an authentic Asian meal, be it Thai, Chinese, OR Vietnamese, would’ve easily cost us $20 w/o tip. Even a trip to Zao Noodle Bar (which has more noodles on the menu than Mint Leaf) would’ve been 20 bucks flat w/o tip. If I’m going to pay more, I expect a complete experience, like at Betelnut or Sino. But a hole in the wall Asian place that was posing as a “fusion” joint didn’t warrant the steep prices or a return visit.
You’d be better off going to Krung Siam restaurant just across the street. That’s what we should’ve done.
Mint Leaf Asian Noodle House – 452 University Ave. – Palo Alto – 650.321.7888