We were invited out to Chai for a friend’s birthday last night. It’s one of those places we’d never think to go on our own, and being dragged out by other people is one of my favourite ways to discover a new restaurant.
I always check out restaurant reviews and websites before I go for the first time so I have some idea what to expect. When I found reviews and eventually pricing on the website, I was ready to be indignant and annoyed and write a scathing review on this overpriced gimmick as soon as I got home.
Instead, I was pleasantly surprised!
For some inexplicable reason, health food or whole food or vegetarian/vegan restaurants seem to go hand-in-hand with questionably grungy atmospheres and service staff who have tripped the light fantastic a few too many times, and can’t focus long enough to bring the table some drinks, let alone process orders in a reasonable amount of time. Granted, sometimes that’s what you want, and if that’s the expectation you have, and you feel it’s a good value for your dollars, it doesn’t matter.
And my dollar:value equation stops far short of the $27 per person Chai charges for their buffet if it were the typical lacklustre space, spacy staff and limited selection of veggies and tofu.
Thankfully, Chai has kicked it up a few notches to balance out the value equation.
The space is stunning, and though I was skeptical when I read that it’s like you’ve been “whisked away to another land” it really is. It reminded me of a Berber camp. Or a Middle-Eastern place we went to in London. And though I doubt the decor is truly authentic to any specific culture, I didn’t feel like i was tied in any way to Kitsilano, or even Vancouver while we were there. It was obviously put together thoughtfully and deliberately, and it shows.
The buffet was also delicious. The restaurant boasts an Ayurvedic menu with all organic ingredients that are sourced locally wherever possible. The main buffet has fully a dozen different vegetarian, meat and fish curry-type dishes; there’s also a raw salad bar, and a delightful dessert buffet.
I think it’s especially hard to strike a good balance of value for price at ethnic buffets, where the cuisine is based on some of the least expensive food in the world. But by providing a great variety of dishes, not limiting the menu to vegetarian, including dessert, and serving it all in a lovely, unique atmosphere, Chai has managed.
if that wasn’t enough, they completely sealed the deal with the service. The staff were helpful, attentive, kept our plates cleared and drinks replenished, and were completely, genuinely friendly. We were free to eat, rest, lounge, eat some more, and just linger in each other’s company as long as we pleased. I know in the restaurant industry, the ability to turn tables is crucial to success. If Chai has managed to find a mix that allows them to complete the experience by letting us linger, I can’t find fault with that.
Oh, and there is a bellydancer!
So while Chai certainly isn’t cheap, it is one of those places where you get what you pay for, in a very good way.