The Ottawa Citizen | September 4th, 2004
Its Nice to Eat Thai Once Again
By: Anne Desbrisay
A summer’s worth of beefy things off the ancient cottage barbecue can leave a girl with a powerful hankering for an urban pad Thai.
Khao Thai is the latest provider of fragrant noodle dishes in the city, found on the former site of an after-hours club on Murray Street.
The greeting is warm as you enter this lush red and gold space. While my table is readied, a collection of Thai cook books on a bench at the entrance provide a distraction.
I watch a young couple pulling out all the tricks in an effort to discourage their toddler from plucking the zither (at least it looked like a zither), a beautiful multi-stringed sort-of guitar, displayed on a table beneath the kitchen window. The dad orders another beer, Mum attempts to distract with spoons of sticky rice. I watch them and browse books as I await my other mouths, and give quiet thanks those busy years are now a thing of my past. The weary parents collect the bill and bundle baby out.
Friends arrive, we order a round of Thai beer and check out the expansive menu. Its listings are not unlike the classics of other Ottawa Thai restaurants, and, as copious quantities of food are ordered and consumed, the up shot is, again, not unlike that of other Ottawa Thai restaurants: mostly favorable, but not without a disappointment here and there.
Tom yum goong is one of the better versions I’ve had, with crunchy shrimp, dark Thai basil and fresh mushroom slices within a full-bodied chicken stock swirled with coconut milk. The cigar-shaped spring rolls reveal good crunch, but not enough filling, too much wrap; the favors within are lost. A terrific peanut sauce, thick with crunchy nuts, fired up with red curry and soothed with coconut milk, accompanying sauce sweet and spicy. The green mango salad, while missing the promised heat to back up the description, is nevertheless a pretty, colors-splashed plate in which the under-ripe strings of green mango are tossed with crunchy vegetables, all dressed with well-balanced vinaigrette.
Chunks of chicken are small and disappointingly dry within their pandanus leaf wrappers and a starter of fresh orange slices topped with sweet grounded pork and peanuts is probably well intentioned, but I don’t really get its appeal: too sweet for me, missing a sour balance.
Sinuses are effectively cleared with the house of green curry, a fiery bowl of chicken peppers and bamboo shoots in a gloriously basil-dominant, coconut-rich broth, lively with a healthy green curry paste, pungent with ginger and garlic. Salmon is steamed and moist within a rich yellow curry, presented in a hollowed out coconut.
Pad Thai is mounded within an omelette, the favor good, the ingredients fresh and the sauce happily not too sweet. Perhaps my favorite of what we sampled was makua yaow len goong, a shrimp and eggplant dish, the fragrance of Thai basil magnificent, the balance of crunch and soft, sweet and sour, spicy and hot, exactly as it should be.
The only dessert available on either night I dined at Khao Thai was sticky rice with mango: rice cooked in sweet coconut milk, strewn with sesame seeds, topped with perfectly ripe mango, both times.