There is much to talk about Pai Northern Thai Kitchen. The fact that this place is launched by the power couple Nuit and Jeff Regular (owners of Sukhothai, consultants to Sabai Sabai, and previous owners of Khao San Road) is enough to get us brimming with excitement. This dynamic duo is taking Toronto's Thai food scene by storm. For foodies, it's the latest addition to the quickly-growing roster of Thai locales and one more place to get Khao Soi.
Specializing in Northern Thai cuisine, Pai still brings back some old classics from Sukhothai and Sabai Sabai. While I love Chef Nuit's creations at Sukhothai, Pai takes it up a notch with a bigger space and diverse menu offerings with Northern Thai while still keeping a young casual vibe. As I walked in, I felt as if I had just stepped into a local spot for backpackers in a foreign island in Asia. The restaurant seats 155 in total, including a tatami sitting area and snack bar, and you can even book reservations. Say goodbye to those hour-long waits at Khao San Road!
If you're in need of a thirst quencher, almost every person will tell you to go for the Thai iced tea. It's sweet and refreshing, and it will definitely cool you down if you accidentally ordered a dish too spicy and left you gasping for something to put off that fire. Luckily you can easily customize the spice level to your liking, from zero spice (Mai Phet) to super Thai spicy (Phet Mak Mak). I usually prefer to go for mild to medium depending on the dish and the nature of the occasion because, if I'm in a business lunch I need to tame my obnoxious sweat glands as much as possible.
The one dish that immediately caught my eye is the Gaeng Kiaw Wan, a green curry served in a coconut with bamboo shoots, kaffir lime leaves, basil leaves, green peppers, and coconut milk. Served with jasmine rice, our choice came with tender pieces of chicken. As impressive as it looks, the consistency was slightly less thick than I had expected the curry to have. But as a coconut lover, I truly believe anything that comes in a coconut form one way or the other is simply awesome, and the Gaeng Giaw Wan definitely doesn't fall short of it.
The Gaeng Masaman with braised beef is one of my favourites. After I fell in love with the Masaman curry at Sukhothai, it became an absolute must-try at Pai. It's a welcoming bowl of tender braised beef in a rich peanut, tamarind curry with potatoes and topped with crispy shallots. Be forewarned however, your guests will probably love it too and one of you will have to call dibs on the last bite before the bowl is scraped clean.
It is an unspoken rule to order Chef Nuit's Pad Thai, since the pad thai is the ultimate measure of any Thai kitchen. Chef Nuit's creation has the noodles coated in a pleasantly sweet tamarind sauce with beansprouts, tofu, egg, chives, Thai coriander, and home roasted peanuts. If the sweetness comes off a tad bit overpowering, you can balance it out with a squeeze of fresh lime. Soon enough my nightmares of having ketchup-flavoured pad thai are long gone and my pad thai dreams are forever encrusted with tamarind.
We simply couldn't pass up on the opportunity to try the Khao Soi, my favourite Thai dish of all time. Our choice came with braised beef swimming in a golden curry broth topped with crispy noodles, coriander and green onions. You just can't go wrong with that on a cold winter day. It tasted just as robust as the one at Sukhothai, much to my relief.
For dessert, the Mango Sticky Rice is the perfect way to end a delicious meal as a great palate cleanser. The wonderful infusion of pandan leaves gives the rice a sophisticated smokiness that blends well with fresh fruit at its peak ripeness.
Pai is a fantastic place for both locals and visitors in town, and suited for group gatherings when you're on a budget and looking to share. Be mindful of the slow service when you dine here, and there can be a bit of a wait during peak times as it's right in the heart of Theatre District. I would definitely recommend to anyone who's crazy about Thai food or even open to trying it, and I'd be thrilled go back there to try the rest of Chef Nuit's Northern Thai creations.