Dee Daa, "balanced Thai to go" (basically Thai fast casual), opened in Midtown East this week. Based on photos and twitter updates, it seemed like the place was packed with long waits, so I waited a few days and headed over on Friday to try it. It was 60 degrees out when I left for (a very late) lunch and a perfect afternoon for a walk.
I loved the design of the place. It was cute and modern with their signature smiley D logo everywhere. I liked the clean design, the bright colors, the wall with ingredients often used in Thai cooking along with descriptions. It's not a huge place, but there is a small seating area to the side if you choose to stay. Generally it was bright and felt inviting.
When you go up to order, they list all the "bundles" on the menu above the register. The "bundles" are combinations - your main dish plus a recommended side. The lowest priced bundle is $10, so it was really hovering at the limit of what I like to spend at lunch if I got a bundle. What's tricky about this is most people look at the menu by the registers when they order lunch (anywhere, not just here). But off to the left...
There's a full menu with everything a la carte and descriptions of all the dishes. I don't think it's inconceivable that some people might miss that and think you could only order in bundles. One thing to note about the bundles is that they aren't actually "deals." There's no discount. It's just the price of the main dish and the side together.
I was in the mood for drunken noodle, and the suggested pairings for the bundle were vegetable spring rolls and coconut milk soup. I seriously considered getting the vegetable spring rolls since I love spring rolls, but I was trying to be healthy and stay away from fried foods. And since it was 60 degrees, I wasn't really in the mood for soup. So I strayed from the recommended sides and got the dee daa salad because I was intrigued by the description.
They packed up my order in biodegradable containers with a handle. Plastic bags are optional but since I had a 5+ avenue trek back to the office, I thought a bag was preferable to walking around with just the containers and a fork.
I started with the dee daa salad, which was described on the menu as a unique salad that shows what they're all about (their words, not mine). It was supposed to have carrots, pumpkin, French beans and cherry tomatoes in a specially prepared basil vinaigrette according to the menu.
First thought, that's a really empty container. I could see the bottom! I'm not sure that's worth $2.50 no matter how good it tastes since it's just vegetables (and not very many of them). Second, the flavor was really mild and I don't think I actually tasted any basil, even though it was supposed to be in a basil vinaigrette. The texture of the vegetables was good, but as you can see from the description, it's not quite right. No cherry tomatoes. It did have cilantro though which is a big plus in my book. Generally, I thought this was OK. It was light, had a nice mild flavor, but it was also really, really small. If you're looking for strong flavors, this salad may not be for you.
On to the drunken noodle:
This had much more flavor. It was actually pretty good, even though it was also on the small side. For $7.50, many other Thai places would give you 1.5 times the amount in that little box, if not twice that amount. This one had a fairly accurate description (flat rice noodles, string beans, carrots, red chili, holy basil) if you substitute "baby corn, onions" for "string beans, carrots."
My issue with the drunken noodle wasn't the flavor or the temperature (like some of the other yelp reviewers who had issues with the place) but the price. Less than 2 hours after eating, I was ready to eat another meal. Maybe it's just because my stomach is too expanded, but it's also a small plate. I took a picture of the containers using my fork as a guide to show the size. As you can see, the containers aren't very big.
So, the verdict. Would I go back? Maybe. It's the first week so maybe they need time to work things out. But my issue was less with the food (they may have gotten the ingredients completely wrong based on their descriptions but that's OK) and more with the price, and I don't think that's going to change. There aren't a lot of Thai options in midtown, so I might find myself back there again but I'm not running back. I like their concept, I like their branding, the food was fine, but it's tough to choose something expensive when you aren't going to be that full. I was hoping to love this place and put it on my regular rotation, but I'm not sure it makes the cut. Maybe they should do a groupon-type thing and then it'll be totally worth the price?