Listening to Adam’s long diatribe about the lack of limes in the Pad Thai, you’d think the chef at Sala Thai had committed the ultimate Asian-food affront.

Sala Thai's spring rolls were crisp and fresh.

The veracity of Adam’s argument (which is reoccurring and touches on the meager amount of bean sprouts, as well) is quite heated, and, hearing him, you’d be apt to assume that our recent meal at the Washington street restaurant was thoroughly lousy.

The truth is more complicated.

While the Pad Thai was just about the worst we’ve ever eaten, many other aspects of our Sala experience were genuinely nice.

I was charmed by the dozens of delicate wooden mobiles suspended and slightly swaying from the ceiling. We both reveled in a tender duck entree. Crisp and fresh, the spring rolls were a delight.

But the restaurant’s website doesn’t boast about the duck. . .or the spring rolls. . .or the atmosphere. It boasts about the Pad Thai. In fact, it calls it the “best in town.”

Oh, the irony.

Sala’s Pad Thai was a variation on the classic dish that I found truly perplexing. It tasted overwhelmingly of fish sauce and red chile  — the punch of tamarind and garlic completely absent. Somehow both oily and pasty at the same time, the noodles were simply unpleasant going down. Scant quantities of shrimp and chicken did little to help, and the tang of the lime and crunch of the bean sprouts were sorely missed. Maybe we got a bad batch. Maybe they were out of limes. Whatever the reason, it was just not good.

The bulk of it remained on the serving plate.

We fared much better with the Tamarind Duck. Served in a tangy (if not exactly spicy) brown sauce, the duck was well-seasoned, perfectly roasted, and boasted just the right amount of fat. Cooked with onions, green peppers, ginger, pineapple, scallions and tamarind sauce, it was pleasant and hearty.

Our choice of starters – although not gush-worthy – were satisfying. A pungent Tom Khar Gai soup offered that sweet, coconutty richness expected in the simple stew, and the spring rolls were, again, fresh and delightful.

Not so for the accompanying peanut sauce, however. Lacking a certain zestiness, it was completely overpowered by the thick layer of crushed peanuts coating the top.

Service was pleasant, but rushed – a puzzling development considering the general dearth of other diners and the early hour. On two occasions, Adam had to snatch back both the soup and the duck from our waitress’ eager bussing routine.

Unfortunately, the uneaten Pad Thai sat there — still on the table, mocking us – for the entire meal.

Blogger’s Note: This post is the first in a series of Thai restaurant reviews being conducted — and posted on the same day — by a group of Portland bloggers and writers. For other reviews, check out Portland Food Map.

Sala Thai Restaurant & Lounge on Urbanspoon