- by: Andrew Kilpatrick
TASTE OF THAI SELECT: Mengrai Gourmet Thai
It's hard to know where to start when describing Mengrai Gourmet Thai. The location and the quaint unassuming interior might make you think it's just another Thai restaurant, but you would be wrong. Located at 82 Ontario Street on the east side of Toronto's downtown, Mengrai seems like it's in an unusual place considering its reputation and that of Chef Sasi who made it so highly regarded, but perhaps staying a bit off the beaten path is entirely the point.
Run by Allan and his wife Chef Sasi, Mengrai has completely reinvented Thai food and made it a serious contender as a gourmet food the world over. Chef Sasi who is an Iron Chef champion is sought after by the rich and famous and regularly flown to far off lands to cook for special events. She is humble and has continued heading up the kitchen at Mengrai despite lucrative offers from bigger establishments. They place regularly offers private cooking classes and caters high-end corporate events in addition to providing a daily dine-in, take-out and delivery service.
Probably the part that owner Allan is most proud of is the reputation amongst the VIP crowd. Famous movie stars, politicians and musicians regularly come to have dinner at Mengrai when they are in Toronto. Even as we sat and chatted, a party of well-known opera singers showed up for dinner. The combination of personalized service and excellent food is probably why people who could eat anywhere choose Mengrai, and also why the Thai government has awarded Mengrai the Thai Select Premium certification, a distinction shared by only a small number of restaurants in Canada.
The staff are well-trained, attentive, and aim to remember customers between visits even recalling the type of wine a customer had on their previous visit several months before. This attention to detail kept coming up while Allan was describing the history and success of the restaurant. In addition to being restaurant owners, Allan and Sasi also operate the Treetop Country camp in Thailand which offers unique travel experiences for westerners to learn organic farming and also help teach English and other skills to local Thai children.
Stir-fried Morning Glory and Pumpkin Soup
A great tasting and surprising appetizer, this combination was absolutely wonderful. The morning glory was breaded in a light batter and served with sweet chili sauce. The soup was served with coconut milk and has a spicy ginger flavour.
#54 Red Curry Chicken (or Tofu) in a Pineapple
Very soft and tender, this dish has a rich sauce that is slightly spicy. There are pineapple piece inside which are soft and not too sweet. Overall the flavour is excellent! The #54 is Mengrai's signature dish and someone that we think everyone should try.
Striped Bass with Tamarind Coconut Sauce
A unique presentation, the fish comes with a lovely curry which is slightly spicy. The fish was perfectly cooked and plentiful, and the sauce had a great flavour.
This delicate dish was quite surprising and looks simple but has a complex texture and flavour that will impress you. Two breaded tofu pieces are seasoned and cooked to perfection and served with a sweet chili sauce.
A definite original these small sticks of breaded, deep-fried tofu are a great low-carb alternative to fries. They were not at all greasy and had a nice almost crunchy texture. Served with fried basil and chili sauce this is a great dish for between courses.
Veggie Delight with Tibetan Mushrooms
The amazing variety and quality of the vegetables in this dish is impressive. The main feature is a special kind of mushroom imported from Asia. The long soft and smooth texture perfectly constrasted with the crunch of the veggies. Served with tofu over rice.
Making Lychee Martinis
Allan was excited to teach how to make high-end lychee martinis.
A very light-tasting martini, these lychee martinis make a perfect after dinner treat. Just barely sweet it's not overpowering like many cocktails. The presentation and flavour was absolutely perfect!
Just when we thought we'd seen everything special that Mengrai had to offer, out came this delicious pineapple cheesecake. Topped with caramel and drizzled with strawberry compote, this unqiue cake was unlike anything we've had before. Not too rich, and a perfect treat to have right before...
Mango Crème Brûlée!
Despite all the French influence at Mengrai, Chef Sasi has never formally studied French cooking but definitely is influenced by French techniques. The final dish we tried was amazing! The vanilla bean and mango together made for a perfect Thai version of this French classic.
If you are looking for a meal that is extra special, it's worth making the trip to Mengrai Gourmet Thai. You will be treated like a VIP, and the food won't disappoint you either!
Visit Mengrai Gourmet Thai online: www.mengraithai.com