Decent Thai Food at Pai

PaiLocation: 18 Duncan Street, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.paitoronto.com/

After recently having a mind-blowing meal at Khao San Road (which is just around the corner), I decided to Thai it up again, this time at Pai.  Alas, the meal was quite tasty, but it wasn’t even close to being on the same level as KSR.

I ordered the Pad Gra Prow — “holy basil stir fried with your choice of ground pork, chicken, beef or tofu, steamed jasmine rice, thai style fried egg, nam prik nam pla sauce.”

Pai

I went with pork, and elected to go Thai spicy, which is the highest spice level.

And indeed, they were absolutely, positively not kidding around with the spice.  I enjoyed the level of heat, but then I’m somewhat of a glutton for punishment in that regard (see also: my undying love for the “hot AF” chicken at Chica’s Chicken).

Pai

Sadly, aside from the impressive level of fiery heat, nothing about this dish particularly stands out.  It’s perfectly tasty, but none of the flavours pop, even when you add the fish sauce that comes on the side.  It’s a serviceable dish, but it’s boring.

Contrast that with the life-changing bowl of Khao Soi that I had at Khao San Road, and there’s no contest.

Of course, it’s not a fair comparison since the two dishes are so radically different.  But my dining companion had the pad thai at both restaurants and was able to make a 1:1 comparison.  He had the same reaction — Pai is fine, but KSR is magical.

Amazing Khao Soi at Khao San Road

Khao San RoadLocation: 11 Charlotte Street, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.khaosanroad.ca/

The Khao Soi at Khao San Road is improbably good.  It’s the type of dish where you have your first mouthful and think “wait… is this as delicious as I think it is?”  Then you take another mouthful, and yeah: it really is that good.

Khao soi is a Thai noodle soup that features a super rich curry broth topped with crispy fried noodles for texture.

Khao San Road

The version at Khao San Road is outstanding.  That restaurant is one of those places with a perpetual line out the door; once you try the food, it’s easy enough to see why.

The curry-infused soup — made indulgently rich thanks to creamy coconut milk — is so damn satisfying.

There’s nothing subtle about it; it’s an absolute flavour bomb, but with a complexity that ensures it never feels one-note or overwhelming, despite how assertive the flavours are.

Khao San Road

I had it with chicken, which complimented it quite well; you can also get tofu, beef, or shrimp.

The combination of the crispy noodles on top, the chewy noodles in the bowl, and the ultra-creamy soup is seriously addictive.  It’s ridiculously good.

Overpriced Thai Food at Kiin

KiinLocation: 326 Adelaide Street West, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.kiintoronto.com/

Kiin is the latest Thai restaurant in the burgeoning restaurant empire of Jeff and Nuit Regular (they also own Sukhothai, Pai, and Sabai Sabai).  It’s one of those places where you order a few things and share, which is nice because you get to try more stuff (though you inevitably end up spending more, which is a bigger issue than usual at Kiin).

Kiin

The first thing we tried was the pandan chicken, which features tender pieces of chicken that have been wrapped in a pandan leaf (you can eat those leaves, though they recommend that you remove them).  It comes with a bowl of sweet chili sauce for dipping.  It’s a tasty dish, but definitely not a home run — the chicken, though nice and tender, was quite plain, and the chili sauce was standard-issue and nothing to write home about.

Kiin

Next up was the pork jowl, which was a definite upgrade over the chicken.  It’s crammed with classic Southeast Asian flavours: it’s a little fishy and a little sweet, with a nice punch of sourness to round it out.  But it’s too assertive, and the balance of flavours is off.  It’s tasty, but the slices of pork (which are slightly tougher than they should be) are completely wiped out.

Kiin

The final dish was kua hang gai, which was a braised chicken stir fry.  No complaints here — the chicken was super tender, and the flavours were well-rounded and satisfying.  We got this with one order of jasmine rice and another of roti.  The deep-fried roti was crispy and tasty, but it was closer to fry bread than standard roti.  I liked it, but a more traditional preparation would have been preferable.

I mentioned that price was an issue.  The pandan chicken was $15, the jowl was $17, the stir fry was $26, the rice was $5, and roti was $6.  With tax and tip, it was approaching a hundred bucks, which is just way too much money for the calibre of food that we were served.  Not that any of the dishes were bad, but those are fine-dining prices, and the food wasn’t at that level.