After a few soft-opening services, the Southlake location of Malai Kitchen opened Sunday, and let’s just say it was busy. This is the second location of the upscale Thai-Vietnamese restaurant — the original, in Dallas’ West Village, opened exactly five years earlier. Here’s a quick, non-review look at what we encountered on a Sunday-evening visit.
The vibe: Lively. The restaurant space if relatively small (there’s also a nice patio, but it had cooled off enough Sunday night that not many people were dining on it), and at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, it was pretty much a full house. The music was at a conversation-friendly volume, but the elegant dining room can be noisy when it’s full of diners, especially when they’re in the form of families of four or more.
Service was some of the most knowledgeable and enthusiastic we’ve run into in a while (and we’re not just talking about the table visits by owners chef Braden Wages and his wife Yasmin). Our server clearly loves the restaurant’s food, and yet she didn’t let her enthusiasm cross the line into intrusiveness.
The menu: As noted on the website, the Wageses were inspired by their travels in Thailand and Vietnam; both cuisines are represented, and there are Southeast Asian-inspired takes on such dishes as North Atlantic Arctic char and Chilean sea bass. Dinner prices range from $10 for a vermicelli salad with lemongrass chicken and a vegetable jasmine fried rice, to $27 for a Vietnamese filet mignon. Although we didn’t order it, our server’s suggestion of a Malai favorites sampler ($13) sounded like a good way for first-timers to check out what Malai can do.
The Southlake location offers a few items that aren’t on the Dallas menu, but we’ll leave those to the full review. The Southlake location is already serving brunch, and that menu, with such items as a chicken-and-egg congee, is really intriguing. It also serves five house-made beers, although only two are currently available, a “Thai-P-A” that was citrusy without much pale-ale bitterness and a C3 Porter that had a good chocolate/coffee flavor to it. Cocktails, wine, sake and various coffees and teas are also available.
Vegetarians should note that the in-house menu (as opposed to the online one) has lots of “V’s” on it designating dishes that are either vegetarian or can be made vegetarian. The dessert menu only has four items (each $8), but when it includes things like a chocolate peanut wonton with coconut gelato and plum dipping sauce, we’ll gladly accept quality over quantity.
The verdict: With a menu this varied and service this good, we’re already planning return visits. Especially for the brunch, but lunch and dinner also have plenty to call us back.