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Mengrai Thai

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jrabbit2727 Jul 25, 2008 05:47 PM

Going with another couple to Mengrai Thai next Saturday eve. Other than the Pumpkin Soup - which I hear is divine...what would you recommend? 3 of us are omnivores....I am a vegetairan that eats fish and seafood. We all eat a lot of Thai food regularly so are not interested in another pad thai experience....and one of us has been to Thailand and has enjoyed authentic Thai food. We are looking for something beyond the ordinary.

Any suggestions?

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    Gary RE: jrabbit2727 Jul 26, 2008 07:43 AM

    My wife and I have been to Mengrai twice recently and really enjoyed both visits. The food is a bit different from the normal Thai you find everywhere in Toronto and everything we've tried has been tasty. I most definitely recommend the "red curry #54" which is served in a half a pinapple, and has lychee in it: a surprisingly excellent combination. There is a "stirfry" section on the menu from which we tried a basil and beef dish, and it was far better than we expected. We've also enjoyed the "flower" appetizers, which are little deep-fried pastry cups containing various fillings. The only thing that was not particularly exciting (though perfectly fine) was the tamarind bass. The desserts are pretty good, too, in particular we enjoyed the coconut creme brulee.

    The restaurant has a very nice decor and the service is good, though the service switches between oddly formal and very casual at seemingly random intervals. Sometimes I wish they would assist a bit more in the ordering process, since the menu is somewhat unconventional. Last time we unknowingly ordered three mains that all had very similar coconut-based curry sauces; they were all delicious, but it would have been nice if the waiter had pointed this out and steered us toward a bit more variety.

    1. e
      eatereater123 RE: jrabbit2727 Jul 26, 2008 08:44 AM

      allan, one of the co-owners, is usually there. if that's the case, you can ask him to do a $35 "chef's choice." i enjoyed that and you get a chance to sample all the dishes that sasi is known for. my two favorites were the stuffed zucchini blossom and the shrimp curry (can't remember if it was green/red but i suspect it was green).

      (skip the pad thai, and save room for coffee and dessert).

      1. BokChoi RE: jrabbit2727 Jul 27, 2008 06:15 PM

        I had previously sampled a fantastic Thai restaurant in Ithaca and had yet to find anything to compare to it in Toronto. That is, until I found Mengrai Thai (Thanks Vorpal!). It’s the closest I’ve found to what I had eaten there, though it still doesn’t quite match the supremacy of that meal - I still dream of it to this day…

        Alas, I live in Toronto and not in Ithaca, so Mengrai is the closest I will get. I had the pleasure of going to Mengrai a couple of times over the past 6 months and though the first time was superior, both times I was still quite impressed. One has to start with the Golden Flowers appetizer – a beautiful presentation. It was crispy and light and the tasty pockets held perfectly seasoned treasures – sweet peppers, tofu, or shrimp - a great way to start off a meal. The #54 curry was by far my favourite main dish. The unexpected usage of lychee in the dish created bursts of sweet flavour. It created a perfect harmony of flavours and textures within the dish. Another favourite was the taro roll that came in the appetizer platter. However, being an avid taro fan, I may just be a bit biased. The mango salad accompaniment was also very strong and the best I’ve had in Toronto. And you are correct when you state that the Golden Pumpkin Soup is a must have. Though the first time I had it, it was excellently spiced and had a lot of depth, the second sampling did not yield as a great an experience. The crispy morning glory sides were a great compliment to the soup and also highly recommended (though a bit oily for my tastes). I would also agree that the striped bass was lacking – when held in comparison to the other dishes. I would have to say that the dish was forgettable and would not be on my list of “must-try’s”. We finished off our meal with the coconut sticky rice. It had an amazing coconut flavour and the sticky rice consistency was perfectly al dente. The mango was also a welcome addition to the dish – a very tropically-influenced dish. To accompany our meal, we had the thai iced-tea. It was made with a lot of condensed milk and therefore was too heavy for my tastes and would have to pass on it next time. However, the tea aroma was very pleasant.

        Pumpkin Soup: http://www.flickr.com/photos/28531775@N06/2708769954/
        Thai Iced Tea: http://www.flickr.com/photos/28531775@N06/2708770152/
        Appetizer Combo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/28531775@N06/2707950987/
        Flowers: http://www.flickr.com/photos/28531775@N06/2708769876/
        #54 Red Curry: http://www.flickr.com/photos/28531775@N06/2708769720/
        Striped Bass: http://www.flickr.com/photos/28531775@N06/2707951267/
        Sticky Rice: http://www.flickr.com/photos/28531775...

        I would like to qualify my review in that I have yet to sample authentic Thai food from Thailand. As well, since I am not a vegetarian, I have included a sampling of the dishes that I ate (which may or may not be meat-free). However, the menu stipulates that substitutions can be made for vegetarian diners.

        Overall, it was a great experience both times and I would definitely return. I believe they may still be working out the kinks in their dishes, as I found that each time I went there was a different presentation to their dishes, as well as different portions and accompaniments. I hope you have a good experience there. Cheers and Happy Eating!

        4 Replies
        1. re: BokChoi
          red dragon RE: BokChoi Aug 10, 2008 02:36 PM

          Has the service improved? I'm taking my husband there for his birthday? I also read Vorpal's review in March, and service seemed spotty?

          1. re: red dragon
            BokChoi RE: red dragon Aug 11, 2008 08:13 AM

            Hi Red Dragon

            I was away for the weekend, so I haven’t been checking posts for a while.

            I have been only a couple of times, and the service has been quite good both times. They were quite attentive and courteous. Though I would have to caution you to check your bill before paying – they often attempted to charge for items not ordered. Though I am sure this is a mistake due to confusion, I am sure you do not want to be the one footing the extra coin in the end. Cheers and Happy Eating!

            1. re: BokChoi
              red dragon RE: BokChoi Aug 29, 2008 04:48 PM

              My long and overdue review!

              (Bokchoi, I don't mean to copy your Flickr photos/idea, just couldn't find any other safe way to share! I'm glad I found a fellow food lover who loves to take pictures as much as I do! My friends and family absolutely love my food pictures (silly ones and all) so I'm glad to share them here as much as you do)!

              http://www.flickr.com/photos/30101244...

              We dined at Mengrai Thai a few weeks ago for my husband’s birthday. We sat at one of the Thai inspired benches (only two in the restaurant) and waited for Allan to come and talk with us, as he was busy greeting other newcomers and regulars. Allan was very gracious to us and asked if it was our first time, and how we found out about Mengrai Thai (through Chowhound of course).

              As posters explained, Allan is very animated and enthusiastic about his restaurant and food, so we knew exactly what to expect; he also has a wonderful sense of humor!
              Allan asked us about food allergies, what we liked/didn’t like, and our spice level. I told him my main concern was the birthday guy (my husband), who eats for 4! He asked if we would like to leave it up to him and we said yes, we would like to try the tasting menus (one regular and one gourmet), with some extra additions!

              We truly felt like VIP’s and were given a tour of the cooking class and kitchens, where we met Sassi! Allan proudly showed us around the restaurant, explaining things in great detail, even showing us a portfolio, which included a picture of Sassi and Jessica Alba. He even introduced us to one of his regulars! Apparently, Allan’s son teaches the cooking classes and is an up and coming chef!

              We sat back at our table and started off with Cranberry Lychee for drinks. Basically cranberry juice with a lychee. Next came crispy morning glory with pumpkin soup. The soup was delicious and a must try! The morning glory was warm and soggy, but presentation was beautiful. We shared a Quattro appetizer (seared salmon, one mussel, stir fry beef and some mixture in a rice paper roll); hard to share amongst two people as they were mouth sized pieces, but we wanted to try everything! Again, the appetizers were warm (they were not meant to be cold btw).

              I have to agree, the service could use improvement and although they had several staff, the food obviously was not being served fast enough or the kitchen was busy. The restaurant was not full, but quite steady. I would like to point out the staff were all very gracious and polite, but clearly, Allan was moving around so fast, it seemed he tried to be everywhere at once, and we felt sorry for him, which is why we were so ever patient. Allan is very passionate and concerned with his restaurant and patrons, and it showed that he was doing more than he could manage, to ensure great experiences for everyone.

              The Royal Thai coconut soup in a young coconut shell was outstanding. We loved the fresh pieces of coconut; a very impressive soup. I don’t know if I would pay $17.50 for it separately, but for a special occasion, it was wonderful, and is included in the gourmet tasting menu. There were plump pieces of jumbo shrimp and the flavors were amazing!

              Next came the Avocado King Prawn. One gigantic prawn with avocado sauce. It was nice, but nothing great. This was followed by poached prawn and tequila sorbet. We told Allan we didn’t drink alcohol, but heck, I gave it a shot (pardon the pun) anyhow. It was more of a creamy shooter than sorbet, quite sweet – a combination of tequila and coconut milk.

              Our entrees arrived next; #54 red curry chicken with lychees (very different, delicious, but a touch too sweet for our taste), striped bass with tamarind coconut sauce, spareribs (I can’t recall the name – they were a bit chewy), rice and original pad thai. We found the two curries a bit too similar and as one poster had mentioned on these forums, it would have been nice to try different tasting dishes rather than two that were so similar). FYI - it was pointed out that they do not like to substitute the tasting menus and it causes confusion in the kitchen. And yes, we were able to eat all this food (or should I say my husband)!

              Incidentally, a much older couple was seated right next to us and we felt so sorry for Allan. It was so clear that Allan was going out of his way to attend to their needs and ever so gracious and accommodating. His efforts were completely wasted on this couple. They were quite rude and impatient. They were not appreciative and clearly a very demanding and snobbish couple. Towards the end, and I do have to admit, the service was slow (our dinner turned into a 3 hour event), Allan offered the couple some complimentary green tea, asking them to stay awhile and relax. They were so uptight, asked for the bill and left. Wow, if they’re in such a rush, they should have chosen take-out! There was no need to be so blatantly rude and obnoxious! Honestly, what restaurant owner/manager is going to ask you to “stay awhile” as if you were a family member? Heck, they’re more concerned with fast turn-around time and getting you out the door.

              Allan found time to inquire about each dish, what our thoughts were, encouraging me to snap away (perhaps that’s part of the reason our “neighbors” were annoyed …lol) Hard to say, as they were that way from the moment they came in and before I even started taking pictures. It couldn’t have been in part to Allan giving us more attention than to them, we noticed he was attentive to everyone. His personality is so genuine as he flits from table to table.

              We ended with sticky rice and ice-cream (green tea and ginger). Allan even stood and sang Happy Birthday which was delightful. His restaurant was at full capacity, it was nearing 9pm and Allan was still taking time out to ensure our experience was an unforgettable one, and it was. Allan gave us business cards and sat briefly with us, (as the other couple was long gone), thanking us, and giving us more background on Sassi and their business/personal ventures.

              What a wonderful night it was! Sure the food could have been hotter, service faster, but we really enjoyed ourselves and my husband said it was the best birthday dinner he ever had. He was extremely impressed with the presentation of the food and most of the dishes were excellent!!

              We’d love to try the Thursday lunch buffet, unfortunately, we both work during weekdays (uptown), but definitely on our upcoming vacation time! I would recommend Mengrai Thai for anyone wanting an outstanding Thai experience. For first timers, it might be best to go when the restaurant is not so busy and Allan would have more time to spend with you, if that is what you want. Allan is extremely honest as well, claiming their food is not truly authentic, explaining that authentic Thai food does not fare well with North American tastes in their opinion. I have to agree. Having dated a guy from Thailand for a long period of time, I had authentic Thai food almost every day, and it’s nothing like what is served in restaurants today. The food is spicier, with more fish sauce and eaten with sticky rice and hands.

              Having tried many Thai restaurants, this one is wonderful!

              1. re: red dragon
                BokChoi RE: red dragon Aug 29, 2008 04:55 PM

                Glad to hear you had a great time, red_dragon. The photos are great - lucky you - you got a kitchen tour! The #54 was not served in a pineapple the last time I went, I like how they keep changing up the presentation and style of each dish.

                Cheers and Happy Eating!

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