Monday, April 20, 2015

Pai Northern Thai Kitchen

Pai (@PaiToronto) is a fantastic Northern Thai restaurant in Toronto that serves authentic cuisine with sophisticated flavours. Without reservations, you can wait up to an hour on weekends for a table, but it's worth it.  Some opt to sit at the bar when seating is scarce in the main dining area, but others request to sit on the floor without shoes in a traditional setting and larger parties can book private dining.  But, my favourite spot is a nook that offshoots from the main area where vintage vinyl album covers from the likes of Al Greene, Clapton, Queen, and Bob Marley decorate exposed brick walls.

My drink of choice has always been a Thai iced tea at Pai.  It consists of a robust tasting tea mixed with plenty of ice and condensed milk, a great combination to tackle the Phet Mak Mak (Thai spicy) spiciness level that you can foolishly choose for your appetizers and mains.  

Thai Iced Tea

I typically order a main as an appetizer since they are priced similarly, but my last visit, I ordered the plah nua  (beef salad).  It featured tender grilled beef cooked to medium with shredded cabbage and a tangy lime fish sauce.  Delicious! 

Plah Nua
(beef salad)

You won't find an inferior ketchup-based pad thai here (think Springrolls).  Instead, you get these bouncy rice noodles mixed with a flavourful tamarind-based sauce.  In addition to your choice of chicken, beef, pork or tofu and veggies, all the usual suspects are present:  crunchy bean sprouts, egg, tofu, aromatic chives, fragrant coriander, roasted peanuts, shredded cabbage and slices of fresh lime.  All of the ingredients mingle together to create depth and layers of complexity.  I love how the dish excels by balancing savoury and acidic elements while not having to rely heavily on sweetness to satisfy "foreigners."

Chef Nuit Beef Pad Thai
Chef Nuit Shrimp Pad Thai

The pad gra prow is deceptively simple.  It's just stir fried ground meat (chicken, beef or pork) on top of rice right?  Wrong.  First, it is essential to add the crispy pork belly, which is a delightful accompaniment to the ground meat .  It's so sinfully crispy that it must be fried twice.  But don't worry, the cucumber is there to cut some of the fat.  The fried egg usually has a runny yolk, which is used to combine all the ingredients into a cohesive whole along with the oyster sauce.  The chilies on the plate and in the tangy nam plik nam pla sauce (fish sauce, garlic, lime) give the dish a nice kick! 

Pad Gra Prow

The khao soi here (with a choice of braised beef, chicken breast or chicken drumsticks) is one of my favourites in the city!  The deep fried crispy noodles always tower into the sky and the tender egg noodles absorb all the exquisite flavour of the golden curry below.  The curry is rich and creamy but not heavy enough to prevent me from consuming it with rice after I am done all the noodles... Why waste good curry?  My only complaint is that I don't always receive mustard vegetables with my khao soi, which is essential in creating the ultimate experience.  

Khao Soi with Chicken Drumsticks
Khao Soi with Braised Beef

Rice is an excellent canvas to capture all the bold and full-bodied flavours of all of Pai's curries but also their soups!  The gaeng masaman tamarind curry is a terrific comfort food dish for its tender braised beef, starchy potatoes, and crispy shallots.  The gaeng kiaw wan green curry served in a coconut is ordered more for its novelty than taste but you get superb taste from the kaffir lime and basil leaves.  The gaeng hunglay is a sweet and sour ginger curry served with either pork belly or oxtail.  The fall-off-the-bone oxtail was unbelievably tender!

Gaeng Masaman with Braised Beef
Gaeng Kiaw Wan in a Coconut
Gaeng Hunglay with Oxtail

In all, with aromatic Thai herbs and spices at their arsenal, Pai successfully finds the harmonious balance between sweetness, saltiness, and acidity in their dishes.  It's a must-go restaurant in Toronto!

Pai Northern Thai Kitchen
18 Duncan Street
Toronto, ON M5H 3G8

Date Last Visited:  April 17, 2015

Pai Northern Thai Kitchen on Urbanspoon

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