No I haven’t eaten at every Toronto Thai restaurant, but I’ve eaten at my fair share. Though, to be extra fair, I have been in Montreal (land of so-so Thai) for a long time and have maybe forgotten what the general standard for Thai is in Toronto. Still, newly opened and much-lauded Khao San Road is, in my opinion, living up to its reputation.
Two types of Pad Thai are its calling card, but every dish set on the table was a mix of French-style haute cuisine and Thai gourmet. By that I mean there’s a beautiful presentation for all those downtown fancy dinner-loving types, enough flavour for all the bargain-seeking foodies, and care given to every traditional dish (no fusion here) made with utmost attention, which is a real challenge when you have such a limited card. It’s easy to get bored making the same things over and over again,or get sloppy on the flavour balance or presentation. Tack on fair menu prices for all (ones that don’t even escalate exponentially at dinner), and you’ve got a special hit.
Start with one of three appetizers: cold rice paper rolls cut appropriately small for sharing (the gourmet part: house-made chicken sausage that’s essentially just ground chicken cooked with a few spices) with basil leaves, a tiny bit of lettuce, and carrots with a sweet vinegar dipping sauce. Apparently no fish sauce in it, or in most of the dishes here, as there’s no gluten in most of the dishes and no MSG. So, that leaves sugar, lime, and tamarind – my flavour trio of choice. Add some chilies and I’m in heaven.
The same flavour combo comes along in the Pad Thai Sam Roas. The “Street-style” version is dryer and apparently the main difference between it and the Sam Roas version is that there’s more sauce and more tamarind in the sauce of the latter. So, more flavour. Street style is intentionally bland because that’s how it should be. There are also fewer garnishes – peanuts and bean sprouts. Why would you go for street style in a nice restaurant? Just because you can’t get it on the street? No thanks.
The noodles were greasy, but just enough to keep them from sticking together, the medium heat was perfect (Pad Thai isn’t supposed to be hot, said our server. The curries are hot, but Pad Thai is generally mild to medium on the Thai heat scale. That being said, it’s all relative). Toasted peanuts, not plain ones, tossed in. And crushed so they go further. Plus blanched bean sprouts – not too wilted as though they’d been sitting around waiting to be ordered. Blanched à la carte. See? Gourmet Thai/French Haute Cuisine. Just means the cooks in the kitchen have a bit of European cooking under their belts, but they know how to whip up a heaping plate of Thai comfort food.
Case in point, the braised beef yellow curry with crispy noodles. That garnish does not happen in your average Thai restaurant. It does happen in over-priced ones, but not that well. Anywhere that delivers cannot give this kind of presentation. These guys care about the food.
The other app we tried were the chicken nuggets – perfectly fried little crispies. I couldn’t eat them because they were coated in flour, but from the look of them they were non-greasy and perfectly crunchy. The dipping sauce was a thick, glossy nam pla that I used for the spring rolls.
I saved the sauces in case the main pad thai dish was bland, but there was no need.
I also skipped the mango juice (real juice, thin and served on ice, not a smoothie or condensed milk-thickened drink) and “Thai iced tea” that was a mix of black tea, sugar, and something purple…I bet it was delicious and highly caffeinated.
Green curry chicken – Gaeng Kaew Wan. Finally curry not made from a bottled paste. Curry is a difficult blend of chilies and herbs and spices. It’s not made with jalapenos to make it green. That’s more likely the cilantro. I also generally find green curries sweeter, but I think it’s just that the milder heat lets the sweetness of the fresh coconut milk come through. I don’t think this was “from-a-can” coconut milk either. They also serve coconut water at the restaurant, so I’m thinking the water gets used for the drinks, the milk for the curries, and the coconut flesh for the dessert. Waste not. Save money. Win-win.
When you add ground pork or beef to anything it tastes better. Case in point in the khao soi with beef. A bunch of veggies but mostly a hit of animal protein with rice.
All in all, super meal. I’d go back for the Pad Thai Sam Roas or the green curry in a heartbeat.
326 Adelaide Street W