Chai offers delightfully tasty Ayurvedic food in a relaxed, romantic and exotic atmosphere of fusion world music.
I've been to this place three times in the past two years, and each time it was on a Wednesday which raises money for orphans of war. This is such a great idea- to give money to a charity and make a night of it- weekly!
The first visit- So incredible. Rustic wooden chairs, Afghan carpets wall-to-wall-to-ceiling, skylights, and warmly coloured couches. The only thing missing is for ambiance is a hookah. I love that food can be an experience at this place. I can take my shoes off and snuggle next to my date there. The food is all-you-can eat and during my first visit there were non-stop chai and mango lassi samples. This evening, I bought myself some wine for an extra $5 (no biggie). The entertainment was great, too. The cost for this entire night (not including the wine) was $25 dollars and from my understanding, the proceeds were going to the orphans because the staff were volunteering. However, I am a bit surprised... volunteer staff?
The second visit- same incredible atmosphere, less people, more expensive? This time it cost me $25 plus $5 for the orphans. I thought that the staff were volunteering? Huh? I'm confused, but I think it's worth it. The entertainment was incredible- flamenco musicians and a dancer that not only moves her body, but moves my emotions as well. Unfortunately, the food is not as hot as last time, but it still tastes good. I remember loving the chicken dish best.
The third- Great atmosphere and spectacular entertainment. Even more expensive, ($25 for the event and $10 for orphans) and one teeny sample of chai was included. OK- volunteer staff is impossible. I ask a server and she admits, yes she's getting paid but she wasn't before. Well, I'm glad the workers are being paid for their time. I know I don't need to be concerned with that sort of thing, but coming from the restaurant industry, I want to look out for my comrades. But back to the food which was... disappointing. I had two small plates of "hot items" that were barely warm. Maybe my timing at the buffet was bad, but I wish they would've kept some heat in the dishes more efficiently. The quality seemed to be lacking, too- less spices, kidney beans instead of paneer in the saag (cheaper), and waxy peas in the paneer and peas with a watered-down sauce. The tofu and vegetable coconut curry was incredibly sweet even for a coconut curry. While the Afghan lamb and Turkish eggplant were yummy, they were literally cold. The cauliflower in what looked like an Aloo Gobe curry simply tasted like cauliflower in tomato sauce. The best dish of the night was the stuffed parantha- I think I caught them when they'd just come out because they were hot and pillowy soft- delicious! There is also an extensive salad bar with homemade dressings, which I can really appreciate.
Dessert includes spiced rice pudding, pistachio custard which tasted like cardamom (yummy), cheesecake, Golub Jamun (honey donuts), various cookies, and homemade chocolate and fruit sauce. Drinks are apparently not included now and expensive. It was $4.50 for a teeny chai (maybe about 4 oz) that wasn't nearly as good as last time. Their wine selection is pretty sad and expensive ($7.50 for house red?).
Overall, I feel like the quality has gone down while the price has gone up. I don't mind so much about the price- $15 for food, $10 for entertainment, $10 for orphans, but the food has to live up to the standard. Isn't that the point of a restaurant? I can say that I will be going back because it's such a beautiful experience, but I hope the food is hotter and well-spiced next time.
The place looks like a middle eastern treehouse with alcove seating strewn with carpets and cushions. Wooden accents add to the treehouse feeling.
The food is incredible. I went on a Thursday and they had a buffet with flamenco entertainment. I loved that they had lots of fresh organic vegetarian choices. I don't think the meat dishes offered on the buffet were organic or even freerange. I love dumplings and their version called manti is pretty tasty! It's stuffed with various fresh greens and served with a sour cream sauce. They had a wide selection of desserts as well including a nutty pastry based baklava which was unusual.
The pricing is high, it cost about $40 but the restaurant is fairly small, and what they offer is pretty unique. I do think that the chai should have been complimentary.
The atmosphere is really comfy, welcoming and unpretentious, I'm looking forward to returning to this place!
I couldn't tell you anything about the authenticity of the food, but all I know is that I was in bliss in there. The atmosphere is very cozy, the people friendly and the servers attentive. It was Thursday night with a buffet - the food was great (and again, authentic? I have no clue - my taste buds were loving it though), enjoyed my cup of chai (I like how they give you a mini cup of chai when you come in - a nice welcoming gesture - it was so good I ordered a big cup too). The flamenco performance was great. The price - well sure it's pricey, but for anybody that buys organic groceries for your home, you will know how expensive it is - I bet their profit margin is nowhere near other restaurants AND they bring in live performances - the $5 cover wouldn't even pay for the band's dinner. So all in all - I had none of the issues that the previous reviewers had and was MORE than satisfied with my experience.
We have been in the Chai for dinner on a normal weekday. The restaurant was pretty full, so we got a table in the second room, close to what is probably a buffet area for lunch. The fact that there was quite some open, unused space and the entrance to the washrooms made it a little uncomfortable - my partner also complained about the wooden benches we were sitting on.
The service was good but had some issues monitoring the two separate rooms - it could have been a little more attentive.
Food was excellent. We had the Persian eggplant, which was excellent and the Afghan lamb which was good, too. Combined it with excellent tea and a little bit of Thai tofu for our little one.
The only annoying thing was the Sitar player that joined us about 10 minutes into our dinner and would not leave until we were almost done. It is a matter of taste, of course, but we found his improvisations a little to monotonous and too loud to enjoy during dinner.
Value was OK, but already on the expensive side, compared to other good Indian places in Vancouver, in particular as the portions are rather small.
The best time I found to go to Chai is on Wednesday or Thursday evenings:
*Wednesday - 7:30pm to 2am. It is $25 to to get in (which is a donation to the Children of War charity), and its all-you-can-eat AMAZING food and live music
*Thursday - 7pm to 11pm. Live Flamenco/Salsa dancing. They sell a similar "all-you-can-eat" deal for around $20.
My recommendation: Try the chick-pea dish. DELICIOUS!
I agree with Aftaab's estimation, although my anger wasn't aroused nearly so much. In addition to what Aftaab has said, I would add...
1. IF YOU HAVE ALLERGIES, BE CAREFUL!!--the cooks will throw in walnuts if it seems like a good idea at the time, even if the dish doesn't list walnuts in the menu description. The server may or may not be aware of this either, so don't just go on his/her word.
2. $27 is too much for an entire meal (thaali and drinks), let alone a single thaali. A good portion of that $27 is paying for the ambience, which really is kinda cool as long as you aren't bothered by new age Kits types.
3. the cuisine does suffer from (con)fusion, but seems to actually be macrobiotic food masquerading as indian/middle eastern.
4. Canadian culture is not vacant; it is a plural society composed of many cultures. This is a RESTAURANT REVIEW site, not a forum for social or political views. Thank you and good night.
5. If you want a fun, style-conscious and spendy place to eat dinner and chill, try Chai. If you want true Indian food, go to Main or Surrey. If you want good Persian or Arab food, go to North Van. It's as simple as that.
Yes, the food is very good, including a range of recipes that, while not authentically foreign, have enough spice and zest as to be a Cactus Club alternative. Of course, they market themselves as the entirety of the Silk Road condensed into a single attic room, but like most claims to the cosmopolitan the ambience is more fantasy than experience. It's about as close to India as 'Kung Fu Panda' is to Beijing.
But that's ok: the yoga crowd enjoys the easygoing, if also shallow, kind of exotica. And the food is great. $35 great? Yeah, since it was all you can eat when I was there friends.
To tell you the truth, I would have ranked the restaurant higher, but for a very disturbing incident.
I went with a transgender friend. She's pretty, intelligent, and polite. I suppose you can tell she's trans, and she's quite open about her history if you ask respectfully, but it's very obvious she identifies as female.
Our server insisted throughout the night in mispronouning her -- calling her 'him', 'he', and 'sir'. It was incredibly awkward, embarrassing, and verging on disrespectful. I finally had enough of it and let the server know how my friend would prefer to be addressed. There was *no* apology or the like. Whatever your personal feelings are about trans people and their identities, everyone is entitled to civility and appropriate consideration. Come on. This is Vancouver.
So, makes me wonder: if you're queer, I'd be careful in there. It is *NOT* LGBT friendly.
Stepping off the street and into this stunning little oasis is a dream. The decor alone is enough to win the heart of any chronic restaurant goer. The staff is exemplary, accomidating and pleasant. The food is spectacular and really almost addictive! Moreover, Chai seems to hosts a myriad of different musical acts. The nights I've gone Ive had the pleasure of seeing everything from Classical Indian music, Gypsy Jazz, to Flamenco.
I was a bit surprised by the review posted by Aftaab. I found it both unfair and inaccurate. First of all, the price you pay for the food is a bit expensive, but one must take into consideration that the ingredients used are ORGANIC, which hikes up the price at any establishment.
Another point made by Aftaab that I found quite funny was about not seeing a single Indian person in the restaurant. From dining there often and chatting with the staff, I can assure you, they are present, but rather than traipsing around the restaurant they are the talented people working behind the scenes, that is, running the kitchen! The owners are in fact from Afghanistan, raised in India from what I understand.
Lastly, I find it unfair to include a critique of the clientele in one's review. Aftaabs comments about the other guests were totally out of place and more importantly quite irrelevant to a proper survey of what a restaurant has to offer. As if the staff of Chai was responsible for any pretentious dialogues going on at a neighboring table!
I for one would highly recommend Chai as a place to take guests from out of town, or to go see a great low-key musical performance while dining on some of the most delectable food in the city. I would even go as far to say that it is a veritable jewel in here in Vancouver.
I went to a restaurant in my neighbourhood called Chai which touts itself as an "Indian, Persian and Middle Eastern" restaurant -- yes this is my rant for the day -- I just about had a cow when I saw the menu: $27.00 for a veg. thali with 3 items!!! What effin' recreational pharmaceuticals are they on??? Thalis are supposed to have multiple items. That's the whole point. One item is an entree, two is positively parsimonious, three is still stingy, five to seven is about normal. You shouldn't have to pay extra per item unless you truly are wet behind the ears or like being gouged. A true Indian would consider that criminal behaviour - and I do! Obviously I'm not their target audience. They go for a new age yuppie with more bucks than brains - it's only my opinion so don't get your panties in a twist if you're a frequent visitor to Chai. I just can't stand the wholesale theft of my culture, whether it is the "Namastes" after yoga class, the bindis on foreheads just 'cause Madonna donned one, my cuisine or whatever else this culturally vacant society sees fit to rip-off and re-brand as its own.
First of all there wasn't an Indian in sight which is always a really bad sign if you're after authenticity and trying to avoid the fusion confusion nonsense that dominates this town, and second the menu, which had obviously been written by a professional copy writer, begins with the Ayurvedic benefits of the spices used in their food. Ummm duuuuuh! All Indian food uses the same spices such as turmeric, coriander, cardamom, cumin, chili powder, cloves, cinammon etc. many of which are blended to form what is commonly known by caucasians as "curry powder". So you can go and eat in any ol' hole-in-the-wall and derive the very same Ayurvedic benefits without the extortionate prices.
To add insult to injury there was some caucasian "dude" in his "Indian" garb with long blonde hair in a pony tail... 'scuze me while I barf, sitting in a perfect lotus position on a raised stage looking like some sanctimonious Fabio-type git in front of his exhorbitant thali. Meanwhile, at the table next to the one my girlfriend and I had just been seated, there was a group of forty-something women extolling the virtues of all things organic. This prompted one of the self-approving members of the group to raise the empty bottle of wine to the server that had just seated us, and start a debate on whether or not the wine was organic or not (and I use the past tense as the bottle was off course empty so the debate was entirely academic at that point). I think the irony of the debate was entirely lost on her. Anyways, there was no way that I was going to sit and listen to this rube while facing git features and wait for my twenty seven dollar thali. Eff that - we left. No doubt they are doing very well as I've just seen another location sprout on Main Street.
It is utterly beyond comprehension - how can you expect people to come and dine, listen to music, sit on freakishly uncomfortable rug-covered plywood and not offer them a drink? Sorry, but a chai lemonade is not going to cut it. So do you have a liquor license or not? I've had wine there in the past, so which is it? Here is my suggestion to anyone who wants to go and have a pretty-good indian buffet and listen to some great live music: Bring a pillow (their pillows feel like bags of nails) and bring your own booze. Just sneak it in like you used to do at concerts. Cheers.