Dish

Hold me closer, Thai-ny dancer

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A friend and I recently readied ourselves for a foray into the world of
modern dance, this time hosted at the MacEwan Centre for the Arts (formerly
Jasper Place Campus).

We decided to turn the evening into “dinner and a show.” Sure, we
could have gone anywhere for dinner and just left plenty of time for driving,
but what fun would that have been? A bigger, better challenge was to find a
restaurant near the west-end campus: we limited the search to a two-block
radius.

After carefully surveying the area, we came up with Ban Thai. This restaurant
was hidden away in an unpretentious strip mall, right next door to a
martial-arts supply shop and a tax-preparation office. Less than two
blocks from the show, our hungry bellies danced on over.

Once inside, it was possible to forget that we were in a strip mall. Ban
Thai’s décor is warm and features handmade tables and chairs.
It’s not exactly modern or chic, and it does feature a wooden banana
tree and lots of Thai tourism posters, but the atmosphere is inviting and
homey.

Thankfully, we had made reservations. We were seated at the last available
table at 6 pm. Because the restaurant was so busy that night, we had a lot of
time to look over the menu. This wasn’t a bad thing, though, as it was
quite extensive. Still, with our dance show in the wings, we hurried to make
some decisions.

We started with toam gati kaa gai ($8.95 for 2), a chicken coconut soup. To
follow, we ordered the famous noodle dish, pad thai ($12.75), the beefy gaeng
massaman nua ($10.95), panang curry chicken ($10.95) and coconut rice
($3.75). We added some jasmine tea ($2.75) to the mix.

After we ordered, we waited. And waited. We received a few apologies from
our server for the delay, probably because we perked up every time a dish
came out of the kitchen before we realized it was going to another table. A
small boy across the room, with only slightly less patience than me, could be
heard saying, “I’m hungry!” every few minutes.

But each dish was prepared as it was ordered: they weren’t keeping a
vat of pad thai in the back and throwing it in the microwave. After waiting
for 30 minutes just for the soup, we wondered if we would make it to the show
on time. And, of course, we wondered if the food would be worth the
wait.

Our first tastes of toam gati kaa gai hinted at our answer to the latter
question. The chicken coconut soup with fresh galangal root, mushrooms and
tomatoes was delightfully salty-sweet and worked as a great appetizer to
spicier dishes. The soup was delectable and indeed tasted as though it was
freshly made.

Galangal root is also known as Thai ginger. It’s similar in appearance
and taste to western ginger but boasts a sweeter and more delicate flavour. I
didn’t notice any other dishes highlighting the ingredient so I suggest
you try the soup.

Though gaeng massaman nua was listed as a curry, it was unique among the Thai
curries I’ve tried. It was more of a stew, featuring pieces of beef
with potato in a thick, mildly spicy curry. The sweet flavours of cinnamon
and cardamom came though and we were impressed with the fall-apart tenderness
of the beef.

Panang has always been one of my favourites. This version with chicken and
sweet peppers was generously bathed in a spicy-sweet, mildly peanut-flavoured
curry. On the hot side of spicy, this curry went very well with coconut rice.
It was honestly the best panang I’ve ever tried.

While fried rice noodles are expected fare at most Thai restaurants, this pad
thai stood out. The thin rice noodles were freshly prepared, fried with
tamarind sauce, bean sprouts, minced pork, shrimp and peanuts. The sauce was
light and there would have been enough to feed several more people.

Was the food worth the wait? Definitely.

We packed up plenty of leftovers, but we didn’t manage to save room
or time for dessert. We could sense the dancers warming up, so we finished
our jasmine tea and paid about $50.00 before tax and tip.

Ban Thai offers take-out too, which might help if you want a more predictably
timed experience. However, observing the hosts in action among the delighted
diners is an entertaining dance in itself. Try the dine-in experience, at
least for your first Ban Thai adventure.

And so, with very full bellies and with a few minutes to spare, we danced on
over to see the show at the Centre for the Arts. Even though I live downtown,
within walking distance of a number of Thai restaurants, I’m sure
I’ll be dancing back to Ban Thai soon. V

Ban Thai Restaurant
Open Tue – Sun until 10 pm
15726 – 100 Avenue
444.9345

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