As a lover of Thai cuisine, I'm slowly but surely making my way through the District's hot spots and we recently checked Kanlaya off our list. The restaurant is tucked on the 6th Street side of the Verizon Center on the outskirts of Chinablock.
Kanlaya is larger than it looks from the street. Its dim lighting caused an eye roll from B, the Two DC photographer. Despite an abundance of empty tables, we were seated right next to a wide-open kitchen door and staff workstation. If it wasn't so annoying, it would have been comical that one of the cooks began pouring buckets of water on the kitchen floor and the waitress was watching YouTube videos on her phone about 2 inches from my ear. In retrospect, we should have moved tables.
Kanlaya's menu is lengthy and covers all of the usual Thai bases. We tried asking our waitress for suggestions but got nowhere. Since I think anything served in a pineapple is fun, we ordered the chicken pineapple. It was a pretty standard cashew chicken dish served in half a pineapple. The flavor was very good but the sauce was a little too soupy and the chicken was overcooked.
We usually measure a Thai restaurant by its curry and noodle dishes so we sampled the red curry with shrimp and weren't blown away. It was a solid execution of your basic red curry but lacked the spice and pizazz to set it apart from the rest of the crowded curry field.
B loves soft shell crab (or shob swelt wab) and I love pad thai so we jumped at the chance to try Kanlaya's soft shell crab pad thai. While both parts were good, they didn't fit together at all. It was a large dish of pad thai with a smallish serving of soft shell crab set on the side of the plate. As they like to lament on Top Chef, there was absolutely nothing tying the elements together.
After a visit to Kanlaya, we're still on the hunt for our favorite Thai restaurant in DC. Where do you get your Thai on?
Second Thoughts from B
So close and yet so far. In other words, a meal filled with "but" (not butt, you sicko). Kanlaya toed the "diamond in the rough" line, but ultimately fell short.
The dining room was surprisingly nice, especially for Chinablock, but we were seated at what seemed like the kids table. Remember all those family Thanksgivings with your cousins when the kids were seated at a rickety card table in an entry way, near a bathroom? That was us at Kanlaya.
The chicken pineapple had a wonderful fruity aroma and tangy sauce, but the chicken was amateurishly overcooked. It turned a reasonably good dish into something you got on Asian-night in the dorms.
The red curry and shrimp had a nice burn and good flavor, but it was overpowered with basil that gave it an odd, almost licorice taste.
The soft shell crab and pad thai were both decent individually, but instead of complimenting each other, left us scratching our heads. The crab tasted a lot like the fried fish you'd get as part of a fish n chips dish. It tasted good but that comparison is probably not what the chef was going for when serving up this local delicacy. As for the pad thai, it was pretty ordinary and pretty oddly paired. Still, there was a lot of it, and as we planned when ordering, made for good leftovers. Period.