Dish Review

Thailand fling

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Head straight to Bua Thai for great food–just don’t expect your cabbie to help you find it

Alright, I know that it isn’t exactly the most well-known restaurant in Edmonton, and sure, its name can be a little hard to pronounce and/or understand, but for cab companies, apparently, Bua Thai is the single most confusing and difficult place to find in the world. As proof, consider this actual, completely accurate, not entirely unfabricated transcript of the conversation our first cab driver and I had as we discussed our destination:

Me: Hey, can we please go to the Bua Thai restaurant downtown? It’s on Jasper and 113th.

Cabbie: [looks at me as if I just asked to be dropped off on the surface of the moon so I could watch Hitler marry my dad to a cat]

Me: I’m probably saying it wrong. Baow Thai? Boo-ah Thai? It’s on Jasper and 113th.

Cabbie: [Long pause.] You mean the Sicilian Pasta Kitchen?

Me: Clearly I don’t. But I think it’s right next to the Pasta Kitchen. On Jasper and 113th.

Cabbie: And what’s it called?

Me: (desperately) Maybe it’s pronounced Bhwa Thai? I don’t really know….

Cabbie: Bwa Thai?

Me: It’s a restaurant. We’re hungry.

Cabbie: And it’s right next to the Pasta Kitchen?

Me: Why won’t you just take us there?

Cabbie: [Longer pause.] Because I think I’m in love with you….

Okay, well, maybe our cab driver wasn’t in love with me at all, but the rest is more or less accurate. Anyhow, after saying the restaurant’s name back and forth a few more times, the cab did manage to get my girlfriend and me there, and none too soon: us equaled starving, in the Westernized, not-starving-at-all sense of the word, and our starvation was a burning sensation that could only be salved by mountains of coconut rice drenched in deliciously creamy, spicy Thai food. Oh, man.

Seriously: I live for Thai food (in those fleeting moments between the times I’m living for Indian food), and if you’re at all like me, chances are you’ve been to Bua Thai a few times already. It’s a small place, maybe 20 tables, but it’s immensely popular despite its apparent out-of-the-way-edness; even though it’s only 6:30 p.m. on a Friday, we would have been completely out of luck if we hadn’t made a reservation—which I could only get if we promised to be done by 8. Hey, you don’t get this busy without being good, right? Uh, okay, well, that was a rhetorical question, so you didn’t have to answer out loud, but yes. That’s right.

Anyhow, after being shown to our table, my girlfriend and I ordered a couple of Singha beers and started deciding on our course of action for the evening. To start, we clearly had to go with the spring rolls ($6.95), and for the main course, out of Bua Thai’s staggering 80-plus dinner selections, we opted to share the Panang chicken with curry, coconut milk, red and green peppers and lime leaves ($10.95) along with the Drunken Shrimp, which consists of shrimp sautéed in a sweet and spicy blend of ground chili, garlic, Thai basil and red and green peppers ($15.95). And of course, the foundation upon which dreams of Thai cuisine are built, a large pot (the small just didn’t cut it last time) of coconut rice ($3.75).

After ordering, we settled into the surroundings. It’s got a nice feel, this place: small, but in that cozy kind of way where you can smell your food approaching just before it gets to the table. The decor is simple, dark, a few Thai knickknacks and pictures here and there, with a tasteful elegance that for some reason I always feel is summed up by the copper-finished cutlery. Come on: how often do you see that? Curse the day we stopped eating with copper.

Soon, however, our attention was turned from the cutlery to the newly arrived spring rolls, in all their fried, piping hot glory. Arriving in a group of six, stacked pyramid-style with a side of thin, sweet and vinegary sauce, the meaty, medium-sized spring rolls barely had the chance to cool down before their time on this planet came to an end. In retrospect, I should’ve eaten a little more slowly, seeing as dinner wouldn’t arrive for a fair while afterwards, but hey. I’ve regretted worse things in my life than fast spring-roll-eating.

And in due time, our main course arrived. After piling my plate high with sweet, sweet steamy coconut rice, I dolloped on a few spoonfuls of the Panang chicken, which boasted ample chunks of tender chicken and bell peppers swimming in a rich blend of pungent curry and sweet coconut milk, with steamed lime leaves providing the subtlest hint of citrusy freshness; if you’ve never had Thai food before, this is the kind of superbly representative dish you should start yourself off with. After focusing all my attention on the chicken for a while, my sights turned to the Drunken Shrimp, a bowl of large, tail-on shrimp and peppers sautéed in a thick, caramelized sauce that smelled deliciously of garlic and chili and which proved substantially more spicy than the chicken, creating a pleasant contrast to the base of coconut rice. As usually happens when we go out for Thai, I doubted the portions would be sufficient when the dishes first arrived, but surprise, surprise, I wasn’t even able to finish what was in front of me. You’d think I’d learn.

All told, dinner for two with drinks and tip came to just under $58, an impressively fair price for the extraordinary food quality—and the bill came with lychee mints, which I totally hate but of course ate anyhow. In the end, we were back out the door at a little after 7:30, which made the hosts happy, but we didn’t actually end up leaving from in front of the restaurant until almost a half-hour later, as, wouldn’t you know it, the cab we called couldn’t find the place. Maybe Bua Thai needs a bigger sign. V

Bua Thai
11049-113 St • 482-2277

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