Originally, I come from a fairly multicultural island called Mauritius. Growing up, the food I ate was primarily of Chinese and French influence, but I was also exposed to lots of African and Indian food. However I had never had sushi prior to moving to Toronto and if you would have mentioned Pad Thai I would probably have said Gesundheit. My first experience with Pad Thai was not necessarily the best for a very simple reason: I ordered it from Spring Rolls. Over the years, I gave the noodle dish numerous chances at various institutions in the city but all in vain. I never loved it and thought it was always too vinegary or spicy or tasted closer to ketchup than anything else. After expressing my distaste for the dish to the astonishment of many people, I decided to visit the one place that they all seemed to recommend: Pai.
We arrived at the restaurant at 11 30 on a Wednesday, right at the opening and within moments the restaurant filled up, acting as a true testament of how popular the place is. The great thing about going to lunch with food Instagram friends is that there seems to be an unspoken agreement. We shall always be eating everything family style in order to try out as many dishes as possible and that we shall never be able to eat our food hot. Pai’s menu was composed of fairly traditional Thai dishes and we settled on four classic choices: The Papaya Salad, Khao Soi, Gang Masaman, Pad Thai and a round of Thai Iced Tea.
The Papaya Salad was definitely not what I expected it to be. Pai makes use of underripe papayas in the making of their salad which gives it an interesting crunch and a texture and flavour reminiscent of cabbage. Paired with shrimp and shrimp crackers, the restaurant offers a fresher and more interesting version of the dish to its customers. The Khao Soi showed an incredible depth of flavour that I have rarely encountered in the culinary world and was one of my favourite dishes. The Gang Masaman was soft and pretty much melted in my mouth and I would love to award Pai the medal for best Pad Thai in all of Toronto. The restaurant would also win the award for the best Thai Iced Tea in the city although it might also be the most expensive one too.
We finished off the meal with a plate of Khao Neeo Mamuang, a dessert of sweet sticky rice and mangoes. I will admit that I am biased when it comes to sticky rice desserts as I tend to dislike them. However, my lunch partners thoroughly enjoyed the dessert and I only took a bite of the perfectly ripe mango on top.
After my visit to the restaurant, I finally understood the reason behind the high praise. It is not hard to make complex dishes good, but it is considerably harder to make simple ones great. In that respect, the restaurant succeeds brilliantly in inviting the patrons on a culinary journey that will constantly make them crave a slice of Pai.