Commentary

May 30, 2014

Fly Over: ‘Sala Thai’, and ‘Godzilla’

Nestor Cruz and Jayson Burns

Sala-Thai-photo

Eating out:

Sala Thai

Where does one go in the West Valley when the craving for exotic Asian food strikes and Chinese super buffets just don’t cut it anymore?
Since my wife and I moved to Phoenix a year ago, I noticed more and more people turn to Thai restaurants to get their Asian food fix, and for good reason. Thai food appeals to more than just the sense of taste. It tantalizes the eyes and nostrils even before the first morsel touches the taste buds.
Traditional ingredients in Thai food include Pik Kee Noo (Thai chili peppers), garlic, lemongrass, lime, tamarind juice and Nam Pla (a translucent reddish-brown fish sauce made from anchovies, water and salt fermenting for up to 18 months).
We visited our neighborhood Thai spot, Sala Thai, on a recent date night. Located at 7448 West Glendale Avenue in Glendale, Sala Thai is situated two miles from the Westgate entertainment district.
Owner Sam Pluemjit and his wife Somsaun opened this Sala Thai, their third location, in June 2012. They came to the U.S. in 1993 and worked in a factory for nearly 14 years before opening their first Sala Thai restaurant on north 32nd Street in Phoenix. Opening the Thai restaurant wasn’t an impulsive move nor did it happen overnight.
“The whole time we worked at the factory, we did a lot of catering, serving Thai-style food,” Pluemjit said.
From his early catering days to his current Sala Thai location, Pluemjit works with recipes he learned from cooking with his family in Thailand. He leans toward the spicier offerings on his menu, favoring traditional fare such as spicy seafood, spicy green beans, spicy basil leaves and yellow curry.
We start our meal with chicken satay, which is chicken marinated and grilled on a bamboo skewer. I’m a huge fan of street food and eating this made me feel like I was walking the streets of a bustling Asian city and soaking in the sights, sounds and tastes.
Our next course was soup and Pluemjit recommended the coconut milk soup or Tom Kra Gai. Chicken is cooked in a broth of coconut milk with tomatoes, onions, Thai herbs, mushrooms, lime juice and lemongrass. This fragrant and filling soup, served in a hotpot, could easily have been our one and only course for the evening. I loved how the coconut milk smoothed out the citrusy tang of the lime juice and lemongrass. Order this dish if you’re feeling under the weather or want to warm up on a cool winter evening.
The rest of the menu is divided into sections offering a variety of dishes for whatever you happen to be in the mood for. The noodle section includes crowd-pleasers such as Phad-Thai, rice noodles stir-fried with chicken, shrimp, eggs and bean sprouts, and Drunken Noodles, consisting of big, flat rice noodles with mixed vegetables, Thai peppers, basil and choice of chicken, beef or pork. It’s somewhat spicy but packs enough flavor to make you think twice about putting that fork down.
The entrée section offers meat, vegetable and seafood dishes. Some dishes are mild while others are spicy for the brave foodie to enjoy. Spicy Seafood consists of catfish chunks with squid, shrimp and fish ball (similar to meatballs but made with fish and boiled until it achieves an elastic texture).
A year ago, my wife and I “beta tested” a dessert Somsaun made, consisting of ripe mango slices laid on a bed of sweet, sticky rice and topped with sesame seeds. I’m happy to report Somsaun has fine-tuned the dish, and it is now a regular item on the menu.
Overall, Sala Thai stands apart from other Asian restaurants, offering no-kidding Thai home cooking that appeals to the senses.
For more information, call 623-435-6949 or visit www.salathaiaz.com.

 
Godzilla-poster

In theaters:

‘Godzilla’

It has been 60 years since the Japanese film “Gojira” invented the undisputed King of the Monsters, “Godzilla.” In that time, there have been around 32 movies of varying degrees of (and I mean varying degrees) quality featuring him. I have always been a Godzilla fan(atic), so when I heard about this year’s American attempt at rebooting the franchise, I was more than a little crazed with anticipation; surely, there was no way this could ever meet my expectations … could it? Short answer: Oh yes.
After a secretive organization known as Monarch uncovers two large, ancient spores underground in 1999 (one dormant, one empty), strange incidents start occurring such as the mysterious destruction of a Japanese power plant as well as unknown sound waves.
Jump to present day, and the residents of the spores are revealed: monstrous, unstoppable creatures that devour nuclear energy and harnesses electromagnetic energy. It is soon made clear that these creatures, MUTOs, do not intend to live peacefully away from civilization, and American cities are destroyed. But Monarch knows of a way to defeat the MUTOs, an equally monstrous and unstoppable creature called Godzilla.
Something I really appreciated about “Godzilla” is it felt like a “Godzilla” film with a decent combination of human drama and monster-induced destruction, all tied together with the theme of nature owns humanity. Godzilla himself is slowly built up, and the audience doesn’t get a taste of his true potential until the last quarter of the movie.
At first I was a little annoyed by this, especially since the MUTOs get more screen time, but then I realized it all simply made Godzilla’s presence all the more imposing and awe-inspiring. I would’ve liked it if the film lingered on a few of the destruction scenes more (don’t look at me like that), but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy following the main human protagonist limp his way forward set-back after set-back, struggling to get home to his family and to do his duty as a Marine with his country under attack. Plus, sometimes I personally have a strange masochistic joy when some things like MUTOs’ and Godzilla’s shared history is left for interpretation.
While there were one or two performances that seemed a little more dramatic than I thought was necessary, for the most part the actors made the admittedly ludicrous idea of any giant monster movie credible.
Aaron Taylor-Johnson as main protagonist Ford does a good job at adding the human element to the film without taking the focus away from the carnage going on around him. In other words, he’s not a whiner. Bryan Cranston (who, let’s face it, is one of the main reasons nonGodzilla fans are seeing this) also does as well as we’ve all come to expect, though I think fans will be disappointed with how little screen time he actually gets.
The one acting complaint I unfortunately feel I should bring up is of Ken Watanabe. His character was basically one long note, and almost every scene of his begins with him staring off into space, deep in thought, only to be interrupted by someone so he can say something deep and prophetic. I’ve never seen Ken Watanabe give a poor performance, but even before the halfway point his little gimmick started to get comical.
I have never been so awed in a movie theater before. The scope of these creatures, the build-up, the sets, it all put me at the edge of my seat (so much so, I couldn’t avoid using that clichéd line).
Seriously, both Godzilla and the MUTOs move and act like animals while at the same time showing almost human intelligence. Fight scenes between them are just beautiful, and the only time I thought an effect looked bad was, oddly enough, the bullet tracers and fired ordnance from the military.
There was just so much scope to “Godzilla,” which is exactly as it should be. And one small thing that I really appreciated is, although the MUTOs are insect-like in form, the filmmakers avoided going the predictable route when it came to the wings, the mouth or the roar.
Honestly, I was incredibly relieved to walk out of “Godzilla” with my expectations met. Anyone who was hoping for the next great “Godzilla” movie can finally let their breath out.
This film is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of destruction, mayhem and creature violence.




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