leave your inhibitions at the door
One of my first posts was my griping about the lack of good, reasonably-priced Thai food here in Ann Arbor. There are a few here that taste ok but charge way too much for their food, especially when compared to similar places in Chicago. One would think that a small town like this would be cheaper than high-rent places in Chicago, but this isn’t the case. It comes down to what the market will bear, and there are some weird dynamics here in Ann Arbor. And by “weird” I mean hippie. Where else are people are cool with spending two to three times more than they should just because it’s “non-corporate”? Especially if you’re a restaurant with a name that starts with “Zing” and ends with “man’s”.
One of the restaurants I mentioned in that post was Tuptim, which was recently featured in a Frugal Floozie Friday piece on AnnArbor.com. The general premise of that column is to find good cheap eats in town for under $5. The writing was good enough to convince me that a repeat visit to Tuptim was in order. Since my Thai post was based on my pre-blog experiences of the individual restaurants, I thought it would be interesting to revisit this place with a critical eye. Maybe I was too harsh on the place or I was overeager in making an impression as a newly-minted blogger. Perhaps my memory was off…
No chance. This place still sucks.
We’re huge fans of summer rolls so we planned on a double order of those, maybe some soup, Pad Thai, and a couple of other entrees to share. As my kids’ college funds will tell you, we’re not cheapskates, but the prices here were ridiculous. I’ve included them below so you can decide whether we got ripped-off. Apologies: phone pics didn’t turn out so well, so this post is a little light on pictures.
First course – Summer Rolls ($5 per order)
They came out and looked a little smallish, which made the decision to get two orders look particularly prescient. But it’s what’s on the inside that matters, right? They usually are rice paper wrappers filled with rice noodles, chicken or shrimp, lettuce, and cilantro served with a peanut sauce. Sometimes they’ll have some shredded carrots, mint, and bean sprouts. Tuptim’s version had tofu, carrots, a lot of lettuce, and served with a watery sweet and sour sauce. That’s not even close.
Second Course – Tom Khaa Soup ($5)
This is a soup that’s primarily made with coconut milk, ginger, chicken, and lemon grass. Often you’ll see cilantro, straw mushrooms, and chili peppers in there to give it some heat. This was nice and spicy, but the coconut was way too overpowering. I got the sense that it wasn’t cooked long enough and the flavors weren’t allowed to thoroughly meld.
Pad Thai ($11)– This typically consists of rice noodles, eggs, fish sauce, tamarind, bean sprouts, chopped nuts, lime, cilantro, and whatever protein you want to add. Tuptim’s was unrecognizable. It had some brownish sauce that vaguely tasted of tamarind, but was overloaded with sugar. It was almost like it was made with a base of corn syrup. And I don’t recall there being nuts or lime. This is one of Thailand’s national dishes, but maybe they are from a rebellious area.
Thai Fried Rice with Chicken – Really kind of forgettable. In fact, I almost forgot we even ordered it at all. I think it was about $9 or so…
Panang Curry with Beef ($12) – This was the best of the bunch. We ordered it “hot” and they delivered with the spice. That alone is refreshing as a lot of places say their food is hot, but wimp out in fear of losing customers. It also had a nice peanuty flavor, fresh veggies, and a good proportion of beef. The problem is that the overall size, was small. Very small. In this picture, I put it next to the scoop of rice to give you an idea of how small.
3 extra orders of rice – Not sure if they charged us for these, but it’s pretty bad that we had to order them so that we could get full. I seriously doubt they are trying to do their part to address the obesity epidemic by not tempting their customers to overeat. I just think they know people will overpay here.
The Final Indignity
When I got the bill, I was shocked – $70. But it wasn’t the overall price, the shocker was the price included an 18% gratuity. When I asked about this, they said that it’s included with parties of five or more… WHAT? Has anyone ever heard of that? I’ve seen it for parties of 6 or 8, but 5? That’s ridiculous.
I can maybe understand that if we had five adults, each ordering an appetizer, soup, and entrée. That’s a lot of orders to keep track of and trips back and forth to the kitchen. But this was an appetizer, one bowl of soup, and three entrees we ate family-style. That’s not a lot 0f work. I usually pay 18% tip anyway and there wasn’t anything wrong with the service we experienced that would lead me to tip less. But the idea of automatically charging us for this pissed me off.
I can also understand it if the pieholes were like other kids I’ve seen running around a restaurant or being really loud. In that case I’d pay out of guilt. Which leads me to great idea… Automatic tip if your kids are jerks. I have no idea how a restaurant would set-up those rules, but wouldn’t you go to a place where you know you’ll have a peaceful meal?