At the excited tail end of TIFF, we chose to go to Khao San Road. It's a Thai restaurant at 326 Adelaide Street, a stones throw away from the TIFF Bell Lightbox. Eating out anywhere nice around this time of year means you can't avoid the titillation of perhaps running into a star. The twenty minute line up was a hint that we weren't the only people speculating about who could show up (though no one did, dinner was still quite enjoyable). It was by the suggestion of Willie Costello, who runs the vegan food blog Until We Eat Again (who also wrote a review of our dinner, which you can read here) that we went to Khao San Road. It's a new restaurant by the owners of Sukho Thai, though it has somehow avoided my Toronto New Food radar. Thank goodness for suggestions!
Things started out on funny terrain. First we jumped from the line to the bar, and then back to the line when we were told it would only be two minutes for a table. Then, we got our table! All this moving around was my fault- I'm happy to eat at a bar generally, but Khao San is actually very, very well lit, and I like to take my notes and pictures in stealth. Sitting at the bar would mean complete visibility of what I'm doing to the chefs and servers! Have I become so paranoid? The table was better for conversation anyhow, though it was just as bright with a big lamp hanging down directly over us. I appreciated the change from some very dark and intimate restaurants I've been to in the past.
There was some kind of squash shortage in the kitchen. Two of their appetizers, khao greup faktong (squash chips) and Gra Bong (squash fritters), weren't available, which was disappointing since they both sounded very good.
While we mulled over this hiccup, I had the Chai Nom Yen ($4.50), or Thai iced tea. It was sweet and bright orange, the flavour reminding me strongly of Rooibos, but with the tartness of black tea also. It was pleasantly thick from the condensed milk, and I appreciated it even more when I got my main, which was on the spicy side.
Since all the squashy apps were out, the only vegan thing left was the Garlic Tofu ($8.00). It came, the big nuggets heaped and plentiful, their panko-crust glistening with hot oil. The garlic smell was strong, and we were hungry, spearing the golden lumps on forks (for there are no chopsticks at Khao San Road) and dicing them into the sweet and tangy chili sauce provided, burning our mouths in eagerness before deciding the slow down and let the things cool off before causing more pain. There was an almost cheesy, Parmesan taste in the crust, but I didn't find it very garlicky. The smell was stronger than the flavour, though it was present. The tofu was firm and satisfying, and there was lots for both of us.
Willie had the Gaeng Kaew Wan Tofu (Green Curry, $12), and I got to try some. It was VERY good. The coconut milk base was extremely rich and sweet, penetrating right into plentiful, firm tofu chunks. They were not shy with vegetables either, full of mushroom, onion, and....squash? Yes, the squash had returned! But this sauce was probably made before the shortage of gourd. Or maybe it was a different variety. Well, it tasted amazing and heavily of basil. Even at 'medium' the curry was spicy. Thank goodness for that coconut cream!
I suffered gravely from entree envy. My Pad Gra Prao ($13) was not the knockout I had expected, even with my all-encompassing love of egg. I think what I really wanted was something with a different kind of texture. The oil drizzled beef was minced very fine, like ground beef. Served with crumbly, fresh rice, the texture was basic and comforting, but not what I had wanted (should have got noodles!). Everything quickly was mixed together, and the creamy egg yolk made it all sticky and salty, with the kind of creaminess you only get from droopy yolk. The beef itself had spice and tamarind sweetness, which has a quality like molasses. Shrunken holy basil looked more like thyme nodules, but kept its strong basil taste. There was a lot happening in the dish, with herbs, chilies, tamarind all fighting for attention. All were defeated at last by a peppery sharpness!
At Khao San Road, the portions are generous, and we were left satisfied, maybe even overfull. There was no room for dessert!