5221 Boulevard de Maisonneuve O. /Northcliffe
Phone: (514) 316-9696
Cost: $140.15 (for two, tax & tip included)
Chaf Hats: 5
Thai and Szechuan cuisine used to be all the rage. Today, aside from fast food Thai Express counters that I frequent often for a quick fix, I can only count a handful of decent fine dining Thai establishments in Montreal. Many of Thai restaurants have been replaced by other types of Asian eateries that serve anything from Pho and Ramen soups to All-You-Can Eat Sushi or Izakaya’s. This is fine, as everything has a life span and innovation is a good thing if we must progress in food culture.
It seems that Thai Cuisine was a thing of the past and while people move on to better things Thai Cuisine has taken to the back burner and can be considered a little démodé. When I think of Thai food what come to mind are the wonderful flavours of curry, coconut milk and basil. No one did this the better in the 90’s, than Chao Praya on Laurier Street in Outremont. It was one of my proverbial favourites and our go to place until that fateful evening when everything changed and we were banished from the place .The story itself is a funny one and a good example of how things can escalate when tempers flare. Since then, I have not come across anything good in the realm of Thai food to write home about until I ate at Pick Thai and discovered that Thai food was indeed not a thing of the past, especially when is as good as this.
Suggested to me by one of my foodie friends, I would never have known it existed. After it came highly recommended, I vaguely remembered having read a review but had filed it in my subconscious. Hidden in a commercial building on Vendome Street, Pick Thai it is a hop and skip away from the Vendome metro. The place is very popular with the Westmount crowd and for many of the employees of the Glen Site hospital. Since its opening over two years ago, it has gained a loyal following.
Today was my sidekick and partner in food crime, Brain’s Birthday, we needed to celebrate this occasion in a special way, and her choice was Pick Thai. Easily accessible from West Island and a short distance drive, it seemed like a good choice even though I knew parking in this area is difficult. Nonetheless, we were not going to let this deter us from enjoying the night out. Luckily, we found a parking spot on the corner of Northcliffe and Vendome.
We spotted the restaurant immediately, climbed the stairs and literally flung open the glass door; it hit the wall with a bang. I had not realized my strength and was a little embarrassed. I apologized profusely and then I recognized Chef Vilay Duoangpanya, from her picture in the newspaper article. She was at the entrance to greet us with a smile and to assure us that it was fine. She motioned to a waitress to have us seated before we broke anything else. Great! I thought, first time here and I will get banned from this place too. What an embarrassment!
Embarrassment soon turned to awe. The place is stunning; the decor is high-end and tastefully decorated in dark wood-paneled and golden orange walls. Thai decor permeates the restaurant with statues of Thai Gods set in recessed walls with spotlights. The restaurant holds two dining rooms that have their own distinctive feel. Decorative motif panelling is done in good taste with golden hues as backdrop. The aura is soothing, peaceful and very Zen. The furniture is a mix of dark tables, cushioned banquette and comfortable pillows for back rest. The experience is totally relaxing, and you feel at home. The service is friendly and very accommodating. They take their time and you do not feel rushed. We could have spent the night here.
We were given the menus to look at and we quickly decided upon the Chef Tasting Menu for $ 50.00 each.This consisted of three Salads, a large platter of almost all of their entrees, and a choice of three mains. Dessert was an extra $6.00 with Jasmine tea throughout the meal.Be ready to eat a lot if you go this route. Portions are generous and filling. We had ample amounts of food leftover to take home.
We received three salads, first was the Thai Salad made with Mango (Yam Mamuang), thin strips of firm green and yellow mangos with a lime juice and chili vinaigrette and sprinkles of peanuts. This salad was a good start to the meal, simple, yet a refreshing and great appetite opener; a good blend of sweet and spicy.
Second salad was Yam Koong, served with Black tiger shrimps in Thai sauce, cilantro, tomatoes and cucumber spiced with Shiracha sauce. I loved this one even more, because of the large shrimps and the coriander mix. It was also refreshing with the cucumber and tomato and the Shiracha sauce which gave it that extra kick.
The third salad was called -Laap Kai, a Northeastern Thailand style salad of minced cooked chicken, black mushrooms, shallots or onions, lime juice, fish sauce, chilies, and ground roasted rice and mint leaves. I preferred this salad the least yet it was still flavorful, we took this home for the next day.
For Appetizers, we received a platter containing two of each of most of their appetizers with different sauces; which was carefully explained to us by the waitress. The platter was overwhelming and very filling. Most of the items were deep-fried and very similar in consistency and texture. This allowed us to choose what we liked the best for our imminent return and our next visit. “They had me at the salads”.
The Appetizer Sampler platter consisted of two Spring Rolls made with rice noodles and two Egg rolls made with wheat dough. The Spring Rolls were of top quality and the best with fresh Thai herbs, slivers of cucumber and marinated carrot, vermicelli all wrapped in lettuce and served with homemade peanut sauce. The vegetable egg rolls were deep-fried and served with Plum Sauce and were as equally good.
On the same platter we also received many appetizers that were wrapped in dough, coated and deep-fried. I liked the Koong Rhati- Black tiger shrimps, which were seasoned and wrapped in wheat dough. Niem Thod, minced chicken mixed with carrots, cabbage, scallion, black mushrooms, vermicelli, red onion, wrapped in the rice paper. Plaa Thod, bite sized coated salmon pieces, which were original and different and very tasty. Golden Pouch, minced chicken, onion, water chestnut, in herbs and soya sauce, wrapped in wheat dough and deep-fried. We could have done with less appetizers, but they were all good and I did not regret having sampled them all.
Also on the same platter was got Satay Kai, mini skewers of grilled chicken marinated in coconut milk and turmeric. Tender and delicious, this has always been one of my favorites especially with the homemade peanut sauce. We got Golden Triangle Chicken, a mix of minced chicken pockets filled with black mushrooms, scallions, carrots, bamboo shoots and curry powder, wrapped in wheat dough and deep-fried and served with lime sauce. Delicious!
Our next dish was a soup called Tom Yam Talay. A mixed seafood soup of shrimps, fish and scallops in a broth made from lemon grass, galangal, lime, kaffir leaves and chili paste. The best I have ever had and to die for, not overly spicy and very flavorful, this hit the spot and did wonders for my sore throat.
For our Main Dish, we had a choice of three, we chose Pad Nuea Tuadin, thin slices of beef filet mignon sautéed with mixed vegetables, galangal, kaffir leaves, coriander, garlic, onions, red chilies, black pepper, fish sauce, served with a portion of rice. The beef was tender and tasty with its different accouterments.
The Red Curry Panaeng with Chicken in Creamy coconut curry, kaffir leaves, and seasonal vegetables was heavenly. I have never I tasted something so flavorful with its mix of curry & spices. I could not stop eating for how delicious this tasted. Both these dishes were exceptional and hit the mark on all counts. The meal was robust and packed with nuances that exploded with each bite.
By now I was so full that another bite and I would have exploded. We took the last dish- Mussaman Red Curry Chicken with Coconut milk with potatoes, carrots, fried onions, tamarind sauce to take home.
Our waitress carefully packed everything for us and set on table next to us. But not before asking if we wanted dessert.We both looked at each other and went for the kill. Fried Banana fritters served with ice cream and more jasmine tea. I took one bite and had my portion that packed as well, for a delicious lunch the next day.
Totally satisfied, we headed home. The next day while eating my lunch with a grin, I reminisced about that evening at Chao Praya, 25 years ago, when our reservation was not honored due to our lateness. We were thrown out on the curb like degenerate by a young uppity arrogant rude hostess who not only did not understand hospitality but had a chip on her shoulder and somehow convinced management to treat us the same way. I was glad that my husband had caused a scene and stood his ground by giving everyone the finger. Sometimes things are meant to be and serve as a reminder that what goes around comes around. I was glad I did not break the door at Pick Thai, prompting yet another embarrassment and subsequent banishment.
I am happy to say after all these years, Chao Praya; I believe you just got dethroned! I am a happy camper not because I got some sort of long-awaited sweet revenge, but because I found a great place to eat Thai Cuisine again, with all due respect.