This is the Place
The Good Stuff Is Great ... Other Stuff Lacking Consistency
Restaurant: O-Cha Cafe
There had been a number of restaurants in this strip-mall location, most of them Asian in nature, and the latest tenant follows suit, with O-Cha Café. A difference here is that it features Thai cuisine, which is not nearly as common in West Jordan, which could bode well for the place. Outside, it had a canvas banner hanging, declaring that it was under new management, although I think it's really new ownership, because it's a new and different restaurant altogether. Which is good — I didn't care for the last place that called it home, Wild Ginger.
Inside, no customers were present, and the hostess said we could sit where we wanted. In fact, she said, "Find a place. I'll follow you!" She was very pleasant and had a big smile ready for anyone, which was very nice. I chose a booth and spent my time walking over to it checking out the place. The décor was different than before, with a lot of framed, puffy embroidery featuring elephants rigged up for bearing passengers, Oriental dolls, paintings of Asian leaders, and other very Asian items that I thought did a lot to make the place feel like I was entering into another experience. (Not just a place where people were going to bring me food and leave it up to the food for the experience.) The one thing that got me as a little odd was that there were unmatched table cloths, which seemed a little at odds with the general feel of the dining room, which had more of a unified look and feel.
When I sat and received my menu, I noticed that there was a bar that you could sit at and order, as well as a chalk board advertising refreshing fruit smoothies for $1.99.
The menu was quite extensive, with a lot of items named in
Thai with the English equivalent in parentheses, numbered and annotated with
alpha-numerics, broken down into Appetizers, Rice, Soup, Salads, Noodles,
Side Dishes, Wok Fried, Curry, O-Cha Lunch Combos, O-Cha Lunch Specials,
Beverages and Dessert. I asked questions about a lot of the menu items,
because I was not familiar with a lot that was listed. For one thing, under
the Lunch Combos, it listed Gang Masaman (Chichken [they're spelling, not
mine] masaman curry with assorted vegetables), Gang Ka Ree (Chicken yellow
curry with assorted vegetables), Gang Dang (Chicken red curry with assorted
vegetables) and Gang Keaw Wan (Chicken green curry with assorted
vegetables). I am not a curry expert and asked the difference. She said, "If
you're not so much for spicy food, get the green curry. Next is the yellow
curry. The red curry is the hottest." Ah. OK. But there was also
So I was torn. The Lunch Combos allowed two items from the list, with an Egg Roll and White or Ham-Fried Rice. So I had to choose. Finally, I went with the BBQ Pork and the Hot & Sour Soup. For one thing, if it's listed as an entrée, it must be something special.
Within a few minutes, she came out with a saucer with a simple salad. I asked what it was, and she said, "A complimentary appetizer." I was surprised by this, but didn't mind. The salad was mostly iceberg lettuce, with a few other mixed greens that made it a little more like a spring mix, but the thing that really set it apart was that it was drizzled with a brown sauce that was clearly a peanut sauce. I thought that was unusual, but it certainly set the stage for the rest of the meal.
First words out of my mouth on the first bite: "Oh, now I get it."
The peanut sauce was spicy, warming my entire mouth, and really reminded me of the lettuce-wrap appetizers I've had at some other restaurants, like PF Chang. But the sauce was better. The flavor and the red-flecked heat was just exceptional.
The rest of the meal came rather quickly, on a nice plate with a very beautiful bowl that held the soup. Very elegant plating.
First words out of my mouth on seeing it all: "Wow. That is different from any Hot & Sour Soup I've ever had."
First of all, the soup was more red than anything. There were big strips of chicken throughout, with big chunks of onion, whole mushrooms (not button mushrooms, they were much smaller), what looked like a chunk of lemon grass that was unrolling, slices of carrot, and more. It looked great! The pork, on the other hand, was different from what I expected. It was pan-fried, but there was no sauce of any kind, and the strips were seasoned with what looked like just pepper. Then I noticed that the rice was white, not ham fried. I mentioned that to the waitress (who also happened to be the one who seated me) and she said, "Oh! I'm so sorry. I'll just get you an order of it." Then she went back into the kitchen, and I could hear her saying, "Mom! It was supposed to be ham fried!" Her mother responded, but I couldn't make it out.
The soup, on first sip, threw me. It is, indeed hot, and it is, indeed spicy. But the red was not from tomato. It was definitely a sharper flavor that I wasn't sure if I liked it or not. Again, it was unlike anything I had expected. So I then got a big bite that was not just broth, including a chunk of onion, chicken and fresh cilantro that was sprinkled over the top, and changed my mind immediately. It was excellent, and reminded me very much of some Vietnamese pho I had eaten elsewhere. The vegetables were al dente, rather than fully cooked, the strips of chicken were good, and the fresh cilantro really made it all a multilayered experience that was very good.
The BBQ pork was not as exciting. The flavor was good, not
too complicated, allowing the flavor of the pork itself to stand on its own,
but I expected there to be more to it, being a Thai restaurant. Don't get me
wrong, it was very good, but it just didn't pop like the soup did. However,
there were two cups of sauce on the plate, a thick soy-based dipping sauce,
and an almost orange sauce that was clearly intended for the egg roll. When
dipped in that almost black sauce (sprinkled
Shortly after, she brought out an entire order of fried rice, which was clearly not the typical thing, and was seasoned after plating with black pepper and cilantro garnish. So she certainly made up for the error on the rice. And it was good rice, although it lacked the almost smoky flavor that I like so much in so many Asian restaurants' ham-fried rice. Nonetheless, it was better than many served, also, albeit different.
The egg roll was very good, with a nice mix of vegetables, fried but not too greasy, and the fruity dipping sauce was very good, as well.
At one point, our waitress left, and called out to me, "See you later!" Then what I would guess was her little sister finished waiting on us. She was probably high-school age and seemed almost afraid of me. Which was a little disconcerting, particularly when she (like our original waitress) had no trace of an accent. So it wasn't cultural … which left me a little confused. I mean, what'd I ever do to her?
I ended up having to box up the rice, because I was too full to finish it all, which means that I had that life-is-good feeling I love after a good, big meal.
Last words out of my mouth: "I will definitely be coming back here."
On my second visit, I wanted to try something that is more specifically Thai, so I went in knowing that I would be doing the curry. What else? That remained to be seen.
When I entered, there were three other tables with patrons, two of them had decent-sized groups, and I could only spot a single woman waiting tables. That didn't bode well. But I went ahead and took a seat at a booth.
The unmatched table cloths from the previous visit were gone, however, and one end of the room now boasted a small stage covered in thin, gray carpet. Nothing was going on now, but that could be interesting.
I looked for the chalk board I had noticed before, but it was gone, replaced by a white board at least twice as big. On it, three duck dishes were being promoted for the evening. That sounded exciting. But I was there now, and I would have to come back another day, hoping that they were still featuring duck.
When I reviewed the menu, I couldn't remember what I had
been told about the spiciest curry, so I asked the waitress. She told me
that the red was it. So that was
Then I waited to place my order. And waited. And waited. As it turned out, the older woman waiting tables was the only one doing it, and she was running around like a wild woman. I would've liked a glass of water while waiting, but that wasn't going to happen, that much was clear.
When she came to take my order, I was the third in line. She took one order, then the next, then mine. I ordered a lemonade with it, and she was off like a shot to place the orders.
Within a few minutes, she came out with a saucer with what appeared to be deep-fried rice wafers, and little pots of peanut sauce. I asked what it was, and she answered me, but I couldn't make out what she said, so I said, "What?" And she said, "Free appetizer." Alrightee, then. So I looked at what looked like wavy wafers of styrofoam, then dipped one and took a bite. As before, the peanut sauce was awesome. The wafer was questionable … extremely crispy, about a quarter-inch thick … light … then it started to grow on me, the more I ate.
Shortly after, she came out with my lunch. So service was fairly quick, once my order was taken, but that had taken way too long.
First words out of my mouth: "Looks nice."
It's common knowledge that you first eat with your eyes, and the presentation was nice. I had a plate with two small bowls, a mound of Ham-Fried Rice, and an Egg Roll that looked to me to be made from scratch, because it was not perfect and passionless, like you see at so many Chinese restaurants. I started with that.
First words out of my mouth on the first bite: "Wow. That is a good Egg Roll."
The sauce is light and very nicely flavored, a bit of spice with a fruity layer. Excellent.
Next, I went for the curry. First of all, the Red Curry is not red. It's almost like a cream sauce, due to the coconut milk, and there are red flecks of color throughout, as well as veggies, chicken, and big chunks of green bell pepper. The layers of flavor were amazing. There was heat (although I could have taken more), there was sweetness from the coconut milk, and it was also savory. I am not an expert on curry, but this was very good. And, the more I ate, the more heat I felt, the fire building cumulatively.
The Pork Stew was not what I expected. First of all, there were chunks of pork in a clear broth, with fresh green onion and cilantro sprinkled over the top. It's not like the kind of stew we're used to. But the pork was amazingly tender, falling apart as I speared it with my fork. And the flavor was very good. Again, there were layers to it, a sweetness in the broth from the five spices, the pork itself, and the added bite from the cilantro and green onion. It reminded me of their Hot and Sour Soup, with those fresh veggies on top.
Then I hit the rice. And the train to happy town stopped there. It was not seasoned after plating, like it had been before. Worse, there was something … off. I could taste it … and I could smell it. It wasn't bad, but there was something wrong. What I found, though, was that it was good to take a spoonful of rice in a spoon, then dip it in the stew broth. That made for a very interesting mix of flavors. But, on its own, not something to order in an of itself. It was definitely a step down from the previous visit.
I cleaned my plate and definitely achieved that life-is-good feeling. But I was not as impressed as the first time around. Yes, it still stood out from the standard Chinese-American stuff in West Jordan, but there definitely is some mediocrity in the menu. The good stuff is really good … the rest … not so much.
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