Thursday, 28 March 2013

A Thai Road on a Toronto Street

By the time I was pretty much done exploring downtown Toronto for the day, it was time for dinner, and with my sister having suggested Khao San Road for some Thai, I took the opportunity to give it a try.  Imagine my surprise when I realized I was grabbing one of the very last open seats, and it was barely 5:30pm!  The last time I experienced a restaurant becoming packed this early was when I was a kid going to Magic Wok Chinese Restaurant back when it was located on Brimley Rd. just north of Sheppard Ave. E.  Well, when people are clamouring to dine here, and, if they're late, they're willing to wait to get a seat (when I left the restaurant I overheard a group of 7 being told to wait at least an hour for an open table), you know this place must be doing something right.

Cha Nom Yen; Thai Iced Tea
Having taken a seat at the bar, I had to quench my thirst first, and one drink keenly caught my interest, Cha Nom Yen, also known as Thai Iced Tea.  This was definitely not the kind of iced tea I've had beforehand; with a black tea base, it was mixed with spices and condensed milk.  The condensed milk conveniently doubled as a sweetening agent for this drink.  Though perhaps a touch on the sweet side, it was an enjoyably intriguing drink, the spices just noticeable beneath the tea and condensed milk.
Khao Greup Goong; Shrimp Chips
For my starter, I opted for a food item that reminded me of my childhood, Khao Greup Goong or Shrimp Chips.  As a kid I absolutely loved it when my mother fried some shrimp chips at home.  I was fascinated by how the chips were translucent and hard like plastic in dried form, yet they instantly grew and blossomed into airy chips with many tiny air bubbles and a light crispiness to them.  I recalled those shrimp chips tasted mostly just salty, but the shrimp chips at Khao San Road were considerably better.  They were quite flavourful on their own; the shrimp flavour, though not strong and overpowering, was quite evident, and there was even a peppery kick to the chips.  The sweet tamarind sauce served on the side was, however, a bit stronger that I would've liked, but I still enjoyed the flavour and appreciated how it countered the spiciness of the chips.  Though I was able to tackle these chips on my own in spite of having also ordered a main course, this starter dish is worth sharing with others considering the portion size.
Chef's Special Pad Thai (Sam Roas)
I decided to try the Sam Roas, the Chef's Special Pad Thai, with shrimp for my main course.  Unlike the typical pad thai which is made with a sweet tamarind sauce, the Sam Roas also has a sour (lime) and spicy (dried chili) dimension to it.  The spiciness was actually a bit stronger than I expected, but it was still quite tolerable and enjoyable.  (Thank goodness for the condensed milk in my Thai Iced Tea to keep the spiciness at bay!)  I thought that this dish successfully demonstrated on its own one of the pillars of Thai cuisine, which is the balance of various flavours, in this case, sweet, sour, salty and spicy.

Khao San Road was definitely worth the detour on foot during my downtown sojourn.  It's not easy to find at first as there's no signage on the storefront which, unless one looks closely inside, would appear inconspicuous.  However, if you show up later than 5:30pm for dinner, you'll easily find the place thanks to the line-up outside.  Reservations aren't accepted here, and partially arrived parties won't be admitted, so if you're going as a group, make sure the entire group arrives early to get seats.

Name: Khao San Road
Address: 326 Adelaide St. W., Toronto, ON
Cuisine: Thai
Price Range: $15-$2
Accessible: No

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