Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Khao San Road - Toronto, ON

As our time in Toronto drew to a close, Nhi and I found ourselves having to prioritize our remaining meals. We had initially planned to spend the evening at Nota Bene after Nhi's enjoyable experience at NoodleFest, but a coworker of mine had been raving about Khao San Road for days on end, calling it the best Thai food he'd ever had. With an endorsement like that, I knew we had to make time for it. I'd heard stories of two hour waits, of putting down your name and heading across to a nearby bar before returning for dinner, so we left immediately after work to hopefully avoid the crowd. We arrived at the address of a restaurant with no sign in true hipster fashion, but knew we had to be at the right place because of the crowd waiting outside. The front of the restaurant opened into the street, so we could see that it was bustling inside with every seat filled. Surprisingly, we were told it would only be a 5-10 minute wait for two people.

The atmosphere inside was lively, with wooden tables and stools, communal seating, and a youngish crowd. It wasn't a setup that encouraged lingering, and the turnover was quick. We were soon seated in the middle of a long table, with seemingly no room for our coats and purses until we noticed the hooks underneath the table. It took several minutes before we were approached by a waitress, which turned out to be a recurring theme. For a fairly large space, Khao San Road definitely seemed to be understaffed for the evening.

We had some trouble deciding what to order because we'd agreed in advance to limit our dinner so we would have enough room to grab a soup from next door Ravi's afterwards (also highly recommended by my coworker). We initially planned on just two dishes, the Gaeng Phed (red curry) and the Chef's Special Pad Thai, but as more and more diners around us ordered the Gra Bong (squash fritters), we decided we had to try it for ourselves!

There were no chopsticks in sight on the table, suggesting we were in for more of a fusion meal than traditional Thai. The fried squash fritters were battered in wild ginger, lemongrass, and red curry and served with a tamarind sauce. They came to the table steaming hot, fried to a perfect crisp. The batter was mild and light, with much less curry taste than I'd anticipated but nonetheless well balanced and contrasted with the sweet dipping sauce. It was a tasty start to the meal.

Khao San Road offers two versions of pad thai: street style and the chef's special. We chose the chef's special pad thai, which was advertised as an elevated version with sweet, savory, and sour flavors. I'd be interested to try the street style pad thai for comparison, because this one definitely seemed less traditional than most. That is not to say, however, that it wasn't delicious. The sauce was thick and creamy with complex flavors, and even Nhi, who usually doesn't like pad thai, thought it was a good dish.

Nhi is a huge fan of curry and her favorite is red curry, so Khao San Road had a lot to live up to. In my opinion, there are three things that you need to make a good curry: 1) the right texture; 2) the right amount of heat; and 3) the perfect hint of coconut infusion. We decided to go with a mild curry that night so there wasn't much heat to be had in the first place. Even with as a mild curry, I was a little disappointed at the amount of heat, or rather lack thereof, which resulted in a definite lack of kick in the curry. Compared to other more authentic Thai restaurants, even a "mild" curry induces that little bit of yearning for some sort of beverage to cool your taste buds. My favourite part of any curry is usually the coconut infusion; coconut, when used right in curry, gives the dish a rich, creamy, and sweet note which makes Thai curry so special compared to other ethnic curries. Unfortunately for my taste buds, Khao San's Gaeng Phed, seemed to put very little emphasis on the coconut note. Despite the shortcomings, Khao San's version definitely had many high notes and was overall quite enjoyable. The consistency of the curry was great and was just the right amount of saltiness. The silkiness of the curry broth complimented the chicken well, which was really the star of the dish. The chicken was cut to the perfect thickness and cooked excellently. Unlike some curries, the chicken was not at all dry and was exquisitely soft! Having travelled through Thailand, I definitely agree with Shannon's statement in saying that Khao San Road's curry was definitely more of a fusion type dish than anything you would expect from Thailand or even traditional Thai restaurants. If you're a traditionalist, Khao San may rub you the wrong way; if you're a more adventurous diner, then Khao San is fusion paradise.

Top Pick of the Night: Gra Bong (squash fritters)

4/5 Erics

Khao San Road on Urbanspoon

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