Review of Baan Thai

January 24, 2007 § 2 Comments

Baan Thai
1569 Dresden Row
Halifax, Nova Scotia • 446 4301

Baan Thai is confirming our suspicions.

We’ve had so many uninspiring meals at traditional restaurants in Metro lately that we’re beginning to think that Halifax’s dining scene will only be resurrected by ethnic restaurants.

We stopped in to Baan Thai one recent Wednesday evening, hoping for something delicious and filling. The restaurant entrance is inside a little shopping complex that houses FID, Casa Dante, and a tanning salon. The dining room features old brick fireplaces and a crisp modernism tempered by colorful photographs of Thai architecture. A Hun Krabok (Thai rod-puppet) surveys the dining room from his perch above a closet, and the waitresses wear traditional Thai dress.

After we’re seated, our waitress brings our water almost immediately, but the service get a bit spotty thereafter. It’s understandable, though, given that only two waitresses are working and the restaurant went from two tables to full in the space of forty minutes. The place was hopping with regulars, including one boy who couldn’t have been more than eight years old, who decisively ordered his chicken satays with extra peanut sauce.

To start, we order the Thai Garden Rolls. When they arrive, we realize that this appetizer is meant to be shared; there’s more than enough for two people on one platter. The rolls are substantial: rice paper wrappers stuffed with carrots, lettuce, mint and cilantro, and served with a syrupy sweet and spicy sauce. They’re wonderful, and even my partner, who usually avoids cilantro, eats them with gusto.

Next up is Mango Salad, which epitomizes the complex nature of Thai cuisine, balancing sweet, spicy, savory and sour flavors. The mango is julienned, and tossed with red onions, red peppers, and a sweet, tangy dressing that brings finishes with a flourish of heat.

“I could eat this every day of my life!” my partner declares, and I can’t disagree. It’s just fabulous.

We’ve ordered three main dishes (using our usual n+1 formula): Red Curry with Chicken, Spicy Shrimp, and Vegetarian Pad Thai. The Red Curry is a mixture of bamboo shoots and chicken in a coconut curry sauce. It’s light on the chicken, and it’s not as complex as I’d like, but it’s still very good.

The Spicy Shrimp is served in a fruity coconut sauce which has more depth than the Red Curry. It’s chock full of onions and peppers, and although the shrimp are slightly overcooked, they’re plentiful. The dish is a little spicy, but the warmth quickly abates. I’m a little disappointed by this, until I realize that it’s all my fault. The menu says that any dish can be spiced as mild or hot as we like— but I didn’t mention our preferences to our waitress. Oops. Next time.

Our final dish, Vegetarian Pad Thai can’t — by definition — be a traditional Pad Thai, as it leaves out the dried shrimp and fish sauce. So we’re expecting to sacrifice a little Thai saltiness and complexity, but it’s still very good. The tofu has been deep-fried so it has a pleasantly spongy mouthfeel. The rice noodles are slippery and smooth, and the bean sprouts, carrots and fried egg provide delicious textural contrast.

For dessert we share lychees with ice cream. The vanilla ice cream is a premium brand, and there are five sweet-and-sour lychees for a nice flavor contrast. It’s a simple dessert, but it makes a soothing ending to a meal with such vibrant flavors.

The only two disappointments had nothing to do with food. First, the restrooms upstairs could do with a refresh, including a lick of paint and better storage solutions.

Our second complaint was with the service, but again, we can’t fault our waitress, who was friendly and attentive before she was overwhelmed by customers. We see it time and time again in Halifax when dining rooms get unexpectedly busy. Restaurants do themselves no favors when they take everyone who comes through the door if it makes service slow to a crawl. It’s not fair to staff, and it’s not fair to customers. It hurts the restaurant’s word-of-mouth advertising.

But we still believe that Baan Thai is just the sort of place that Halifax needs. Thai food is trendy, and with good reason. It’s fresh, it’s flavorful, and it’s created and served by people who take great pride in their culture and cuisine. Baan Thai proves that this trend just might have staying power.

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