Joanna's take on... Pai
November 10, 2015
Let me start by saying I love Thai food. I think what I love about it are the incredibly clean hits of flavour. I also find it a very diverse cuisine. Like Vietnamese they use a ton of herbs and are very slight of hand when it comes to the use of oil. I think the textures are great. Often there are added elements like crunchy peanuts, shots of heat searing chili, fatty pork belly and paper-thin slices of chicken.
For years Toronto was a Thai food desert until Chef Nuit and hubby Jeff Regular came into our lives. Prior to this there was a wonderful chef named Vanipha Lana. She worked for many years way back in the day at The Rivoli and then owned her own places. I was addicted to her “ketchup free” Pad Thai and a sharp Green Papaya Salad.
Then the gross came to Toronto in cheap, horrid cost cutting joints always named Mango or Basil this and that.
Nuit and Jeff have saved me a trip to Thailand, at least on a monthly basis. They have in fact, along with my daughter inspired my desire to visit and hang in Southeast Asia.
The Regular’s own Pai, just like the city in Northern Thailand where they also had a restaurant. Jeff is Filipino and met Nuit while trekking through Thailand. A Toronto born dude he went to the Philippine’s to work, saved up dough to travel and back and forth her went courting his beauty until he finally convinced her Toronto was the place to raise a family. I personally am really glad he was such a great salesman.
Nuit is the most gentle, beautiful person I have ever encountered and my life is richer for knowing her. When you visit Pai, the restaurant and do ask to meet her you will see why.
Now, on to this crazy joint, this place reminds me of an Asian Cheers; that would be a TV show from back in the day. The catch phrase was “everyone knows your name” and at Pai this is totally accurate. It is a happy place full of stuff; hammocks hang from walls, there is a window shade cover but no window, flags abound and this group is Toronto Raptor’s insane so cocktails are named after players. It is downstairs and the minute you arrive you are transformed. You feel like you have left one continent and landed in another.
Get seated and peruse the drink list. Jeff is an artist so all the menus have fun line drawings. I am a gin girl and very proud of it and last night I went with another gin girl so we had the 2 gin drinks on offer. The Lowry (The Bulldog of Bay St.) which had Bulldog, lemongrass syrup, fresh mint, Thai basil, a splash of lychee syrup and soda. The other equally good also packed a punch and was named a Cucumber Collins which was comprised of Hendrick’s, muddled cucs, fresh lime, lemongrass syrup and soda. I love that the cocktails match the place, having that Thai flair.
Now on to the eats, everything can come mild for babies or blow your head off. I am a medium to hot girl. I like heat but often find when it gets too hot I can no longer taste the nuance of flavours and with Chef Nuit you really want to let your palate have a little party and do a little dance. Eat everything and anything. You cannot go wrong. I often start with Grabong, which is deep-fried, and not at all greasy squash fritters with a garlicky tamarind sauce. When I think of fritters I think of a patty type shape, these look like giant spiders. They are super fun to pick apart, dip and nibble over drinks.
On to Mian Kung, this baby just hit the menu and it was wonderful to have a tutorial from Nuit and Jeff as to how to eat this dish. There are many interactive dishes on the menu where you build your own and add bits and bites that appeal most to you. Miang Kung has chilled, perfectly cooked Black Tiger Shrimp, garlic, shallots, lime, chili, roasted coconut, roasted peanuts, coconut sugar and varying chili’s of different heat. This all gets wrapped into a small palm sized fresh betel leaf and drizzled with tamarind. A betel leaf is quite mild and really a bit leaf like in taste. Refreshing but not dramatic which is the perfect backdrop for all these wonderful flavours. Like sushi, you create your little mini roll and pop the entire thing in your mouth feeling tastes, heat and texture.
As I said earlier I am a Pad Thai junky and if it is on the menu I am ordering it. This one is beyond belief, here you will actually taste and experience what a true Pad Thai should be like. It has the usual suspects like rice noodles, with a good bite, homemade tamarind sauce, beansprouts, tofu, egg, chives, Thai coriander, fresh limes and home roasted peanuts, your choice of chicken, beef or tofu and veggies. It is not gummy or gloopy, not sticky, easy to pull apart and lightly sauced.
Next up, as a true test of the Thai kitchen is Gaeng Kiaw Wan in a whole young coconut. This is Green Coconut Chicken Curry and my goodness is it good. I am not a big steamed rice fan but 1; this Jasmine rice is perfect and 2; you cannot miss one drop of this drinkable sauce. In your coconut you will scoop out; paper-thin slices of chicken, you can have other meats, fish or tofu, bamboo shoots, kaffir lime leaves, basil, green peppers and joyous coconut milk.
Pad Gra Prow would be a dish I would eat for breakfast. It is stir fried ground chicken, beef or pork (do pork if you can), or better still you can do like I do and have it with crispy pork belly (Moo Grab), stir-fried with Holy basil, oyster sauce with steamed jasmine rice and yup, you got it, a runny fried egg. Mix, smash and mush it up then pack it into your face.
Dessert is simple, I love it but at the same time think maybe, just maybe a few more choices would be nice as for Canadians it is a highlight of our meal, at least it is for me. Again, it sounds silly but if I was on a desert island I would never think of rice as one of my have to haves but here I eat it and really only one other place but that is another review.
The warm jasmine rice cooked with fresh, sweetened coconut milk and topped with the ripest and most perfumed mango is divine and will certainly satisfy your sweet tooth.
Now, one more little bit, Pai aims to satisfy. They are incredibly prepared for dietary restrictions, the menu states any nuts or seafood very clearly but on top of that they will bend over backwards to create a dish removing anything that may be dangerous for you.
Go to Pai, and let Nuit and Jeff know I sent you. I promise a wonderful time.
18 Duncan Street