Noi Thai carries on Viphalay’s history of economical and tasty food, customers just need to catch on
Maybe it was the bitterly cold evening that squared with T.S. Eliot’s designation of April as the cruelest month, but for some reason Noi Thai— which just opened in the former original location of Viphalay, on the edge of Little Italy—was completely devoid of other customers on the night co-diner and I paid it a visit. The handmade sign in the window that read “same family with Viphalay” seemed calculated to grab some of its esteemed predecessor’s prestige, but on this night we were the only takers.
Whether or not it has a connection to Viphalay, Noi Thai is just fine in its own right, solidly on the same footing as gems like Million Thai in Beverly, and Krua Wilai downtown. There’s nothing super-fancy going on, but the food is well-made, and a tad cheaper than the going rate for food of similar quality.
Indeed, Noi Thai retains some of Viphalay’s ambience, or at least its maroon and gold tablecloths, speckless white serving dishes, and Siamese bric-a-brac. Satellite radio provided an oldies soundtrack that ran from Skeeter Davis’ “End of the World,” to Carl Douglas’ “Kung Fu Fighting,” then, suddenly, The Knack’s “My Sharona.” The stark black-and-white menus promised plenty of variety—if not a ton of surprises—with the expected soups, noodles, curries, stir-fries, and seafood dishes represented, though a dish called “Hell’s Beef” certainly piqued my interest. That would have to wait, as co-diner was already calling out suggestions.
We settled on Thai samosas ($10) for an appetizer. They were smaller than Indian samosas, but there were 10 of them. Spring roll wrappers supplanted the usual samosa pastry, but the interior had a nice curry flavour, with ground chicken, carrots, onions, and sweet chili dipping sauce inside. Noi also boasts—as part of their starter menu—red wine shrimp, a Viphalay fave of yore.
Co-diner told our server, who worked our table so gingerly it seemed like he hoped we wouldn’t notice him, that we wanted our papaya salad ($12) spicy. That gave me pause, as the real stuff is so intense with raw garlic, fish sauce, lime, and lots of hot chilies it can throw my diaphragm into violent convulsions in one bite. Perhaps he noticed my apprehensive look because, though the pungent shreds of papaya, and carrot with tomato wedges harboured a distinct kick, they didn’t induce hiccups, and scorch my taste buds for the rest of the meal. A wedge of cooling iceberg lettuce was furnished as a balm, and there was a generous heap of tiny dried shrimp on the side in case we didn’t find it fishy enough.
Many think pad thai is a good yardstick of a restaurant’s abilities, but I’m more drawn to drunken noodles (pad kee mao on some menus). They’re daintier, spindlier, and slipperier than the wide rice noodles of pad thai, building within its soya-based shellac a subtler sweetness and surreptitious spiciness.
Noi’s version ($16.95) was a generous steaming heap of flavour, a big tangle of supple noodles overloaded with tender chicken chunks, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, serrated zucchini, and snap peas, scented with licorice-y Thai basil—and, oh yes, just the right touch of chili fire.
The sweet and sour fish ($15.95) was expertly fried basa in a light, just-crisp coating, copiously breaded and fried chunks of it in a sticky orange sauce with pineapple, carrots, cucumbers, celery, onions, and—surprise—a few chunks of orange. Basa isn’t the most flavourful fish in the world, but the combination of fruity-sweet and spicy in the sauce with a pleasant sting of vinegar more than compensated, and it was especially glorious with creamy coconut rice ($5.50).
After we bagged our ample leftovers, settled up—and took more than our share of those yummy guava candies they give you in Thai restaurants—I copped a take-out menu, which might be the highest compliment I could pay. It might not quite measure up to Viphalay’s heyday in the same spot, but Noi Thai can hold its head up amidst proximal draws like Syphay and Boualouang—and, for the moment anyhow, it might be easier to get a table there.
10724 – 95 St.