Linda restaurant –Great Thai food that is a head and shoulders above Salad King (review + pics)
Perched atop the infamous Salad King is Linda restaurant. Owned by the same family, and apparently sharing the kitchen, the food that comes out for each restaurant are almost nothing alike. I must confess that the first time I went to Salad King about 3 or 4 years ago, I swore I would never set foot in that place again. However, I have had to retract that statement as I was lead through the fluorescently lit Salad King and up the stairs to the mood lit Linda’s upstairs. Thanks to the Chowhounders (TorontoJo, erly, skylineR33, et al.) that recommended this place, as well as the flickr friends that showed me the way.
The ambiance at Linda’s is a polar opposite to the kinetic feeling you get sitting under the glaring lights amidst the roaring noise of the crowd at Salad King (SK). Here, you do not feel rushed. The place would be perfect for a romantic evening out for both students and professionals alike. Though I find it is often filled with larger party groups, which do add a bit to the volume, the pace is relaxed throughout the meal. The restaurant is quite small, and it was almost full both times I dined there.
The Room: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-snowpea/3100795099
The menu is varied and very reasonably priced with mains being in the high teens and mid twenties: http://www.lindarestaurant.com/mms/menus.asp . A delicious tasting menu is offered nightly and changes monthly. The price is $35 and includes soup, appetizer, main and dessert. Great value, if you like the selections presented with the mains. On the evening I went, the January tasting menu included a Lobster Soup, a crispy salmon salad and the stuffed calamari with Thai red Vita rice. For dessert, there was a playful fruit truffle. After perusing the menu and under the expert tutelage of owner Linda, we settled on our dishes: Dining companions (DC) decided to add a Thom Kha Gai soup to my set menu, as well as a Mieng Kum appetizer. For mains, we settled on the fish curry hot pot and the beef Penang.
At the beginning of the evening, a plate of fried peanuts dusted with pepper was placed on our table. It was a great little snack and made the menu browsing more enjoyable. Linda was a fantastic source of information and recommended some of the more stellar showcase dishes of her restaurant. She was seen throughout the evening working the room and building relations with all her customers. Make sure you pick her brain before you decide on your courses.
The first appetizer presented was the Mieng Kum. A beautiful leaf-based appetizer that came with several accompaniments; including shallots, chopped limes, crispy peanuts, dried shredded coconuts, fresh chili peppers, a sweet sauce and dried shrimp. I had never sampled anything like it and was quite blown away by how the flavour combinations worked together. The leaves were freshly flown in from Thailand and Linda noted that when she receives these leaves, she often has to throw half of them away because they do not meet her stringent quality control standards. She does not have this appetizer on the menu regularly, so do ask for it if she does not recommend it as a special of the day. It was a very refreshing start and the flavours just popped in your mouth because it was all so fresh. I would highly recommend this appetizer.
Mieng Kum: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-snowpea/3212980175
Partially formed (one is supposed to roll it into a cone and create a pocket for the ingredients, but since I was taking a photo, this proved quite difficult and was therefore abandoned): http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-snowpea/3213825488
Presented next was the fanciful fried salmon salad appetizer. A small, fresh salad that showcased crispy salmon bits, mango, tomato and cucumber, the seasoning reminded me a bit of a mango salad, which was then topped with a crunchy sprinkling of fried salmon. The appetizer was made to resemble a fish and was such a playful work of art. It was not a standout dish, but left a lasting impression because of the presentation.
Salmon Salad: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-snowpea/3213825458
The lobster soup and Thom Kha Gai soups were presented next. The lobster soup had a rich broth that was curry based. The stock used was intensely flavoured with the shells of shellfish and this heightened the taste immensely. It had a nice kick to it that was introduced to the dish through the usage of the curry. It had a couple of bite-sized chunks of lobster meat, which were sweet and not overcooked. Overall, a winning soup and IMO a much better soup than Mengrai’s famous Pumpkin Soup, which has been shrinking in portion steadily over the years (it is now about ½ a cup, which IMO is a bit insulting when priced at $8 with a small side of fried Thai spinach/morning glory
)Lobster Soup: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-snowpea/3212980313
The Thom Kha Gai (~$6) was not too thick with coconut milk and held a nice heat. The vegetables were fresh and crunchy in the soup, which provided a nice textural contrast. The chicken was a bit overdone, as is common in this soup, but was notably not exceptionally dried out as the other versions I have had. It was a light tasting broth whose flavour was enhanced through usage of the coconut, but not overwhelmed as is usually the case. The herbs (coriander-like) used really heightened the experience and made it taste so fresh.
Thom Kha Gai: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-snowpea/3212980347
The fish hot pot was the winning dish of all the mains IMO (~$22). It was first carted to the table in a clay tureen and was subsequently spooned into a vessel made of Japanese hot pot paper that was set atop an open flame. Linda described how she used this specific brand of paper due to its ability to retain the liquid of the stew. I did not understand the necessity of the paper cone, but was amused at its ability to hold the curry without being compromised, nor catch on fire from the flame below it. The curry itself was a bit sweet and sour. The heat was very mild, thus allowing the other two flavours come out. The fish was incredibly sweet and was cut quite large and chunky, thus preventing the fish from being overcooked while being heated in the paper cone. There were healthy pieces of okra punctuating the curry and adding a nice crunch. As well, a scattering of vegetables, such as mushrooms and tomatoes, could be found nestled within the curry. DC’s only request would be for more vegetables, and stated the adjustment would have made for a near perfect dish. I really enjoyed the flavours and the fish pieces were quite generous, especially when considering the quality of the seafood.
Fish Hot Pot service: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-snowpea/3213825630
Fish Hot Pot: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-snowpea/3213825672
The next best main was the Beef Penang (~$18). We requested this dish to be made with little heat, and to have the chili to the side. Unfortunately, the chili’s were neglected when it was served and it was lacking the necessary spice to make this a knockout curry dish. I guess it was our fault for that. However, the curry itself was very good and full-flavoured. The beef was crispy from being fried and the portions were extremely generous. The beef was painstakingly tenderized and stripped into pieces to make it easier to consume. I thoroughly enjoyed this curry dish and found this curry to be *almost* as eye-opening as my first bite into Mengrai Thai’s #54 curry with lychee (which used to be my favourite curry dish in the city until they recently began to take out certain components from their dishes, leaving the flavours lacking IMO). The portions were very generous and I enjoyed this dish very much. The texture achieved through frying the beef was stellar and went very well with the creamy curry. DC was quite giddy over this dish. It was very rich and heavy, so it was not exactly in line with my tastes, but I still found it very enjoyable.
Beef Penang: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-snowpea/3213825730
The only failure, or disappointment, of the evening was the Stuffed Calamari with Rice. The temperature of the dish came out room temperature and the textures were unappealing for me. The calamari was a touch too chewy and tough. The rice was bland and uninteresting. It was also quite dense as it was packed into the squid quite tightly. The bits of chicken bits with sauce that ran along the plate were nice to eat with the puffed rice crackers, but the rest of the dish was severely lacking, especially when compared to the other mains and appetizers. The squid were served wrapped in leaves, but there were no flavour permeations gained from this preparation method. There was a slightly slick and sweet marinade rubbed on the outside of the squid, but it was not enough to save this dish from being a bland failure.
Stuffed Calamari: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-snowpea/3212980529/
Stuffed Calamari in leaf: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-snowpea/3213825844
Calamari close-up: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-snowpea/3212980619
For dessert, we were presented a small plate of little exotic fruit truffles. One was filled with lychee and the other with a piece of pineapple. The chocolate was exceptionally sweet and I found it did not compliment the already sweet choice in fruits. This was especially the case with the white chocolate encased pineapple. It was a pretty platter though, but a rather uninspired ending to an otherwise standout meal. But what can one expect for $35 and a 4 course tasting menu I guess?
Fruit Truffles: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-snowpea/3213825956
On a previous visit, I was fortunate enough to taste their Koe Koe Shrimp. Large, succulent shrimps (I am talking jumbo wild gulf shrimps here) were mixed with dried coconut. I lost count of the number of shrimps presented, but I know that I got my money’s worth with this dish. Excellent value and the quality surpassed most other shrimp dishes I have had in the city. It is very hard to find such tasty shellfish and in such large quantities. I forgot to take a photo of the shrimps, so unfortunately they are covered by the mound of coconut shreds.
Koe Koe Shrimp: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-snowpea/3101633212
Linda’s rack of lamb was another winner during that earlier meal. Though not something I would typically associate with a Thai restaurant, this dish was nonetheless stellar. The meat was cooked spot on and left medium-rare, just the way I prefer my lamb. There were nice char marks along the side of meat as well. The lamb was juicy and very sweet. Some of the best lamb I have had in the city. The lamb pieces were not emaciated like many racks I have unfortunately had. It however does not showcase what the restaurant can really do – which is curry. Perhaps a lamb rack with curry would be a winning combination?
Lamb Rack: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-snowpea/3101633244
Rice pudding was a nice treat and pleasant end to a meal. It was much denser than a typical rice pudding and was more like a mochi in texture. The coconut cream topping it was nice and sweet, but not overpoweringly so. The mango slices sitting beneath the ‘cakes’ were a bit bitter when so easily juxtaposed against the sweet coconut and sticky rice. I would have to say I enjoyed Mengrai’s version better – though I found Mengrai’s to be one of the best incarnations I have ever had the pleasure of sampling. The rice was al dente and the milky coconut enveloping it was divine. Ridiculously tiny portions though (~$5). It was about 5 tbsps, but then they give you these tiny teaspoons to eat it with, so I guess it lasts longer and the portion looks bigger in contrast.
Rice Pudding: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-snowpea/3101633274
Mengrai’s version: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-snowpea/2708770018/in/set-72157606511306416/ <- this picture was taken over a year ago and the portions have diminished since then unfortunately.
Overall we were very satisfied with the meal, especially considering the amount paid. The quality of the ingredients was exceptional, and the care in presentation was very apparent. The curries were very complex and there were so many intermingling flavours that really heightened the dining experience. Top that off with unlimited rice and you’ve got a winning combination (I was always a bit irritated with the charging for a tiny bowl of rice with the curries at Mengrai – especially when I find the rice is often made either overdone and mushy, or underdone and hard). I found the flavours and preparation methods to be more fusion than traditional – but I am not one to complain as long as the food is good. With the recent slight faltering of Mengrai in my eyes, Linda quickly swoops in to fill the void for Best Thai in the city (IMO – I have a few more to try of course). Though I would have to say that only a few dishes really were stellar / top-notch regardless of price (The fish hot pot, the Mieng Kum, the soups), the rest of them were very good, satisfying and excellent for the price (Koe Koe shrimp, Beef Penang) with only one failure (stuffed calamari). I was clutching my belly while exiting the restaurant and all for about $30-$35 per person plus tax/tip. The service is attentive, and Linda was an exceptional host. She really helped us negotiate the menu and did a great job explaining the components of each dish. All DC’s were very pleased with the meal and they are a tough bunch to satisfy. I will return and hopefully sooner than later.
Cheers and happy eating!
335 Yonge Street
Toronto, ON M5B 1R7
2nd Floor on top of Salad King (just keep walking through SK and up the stairs
We were at Linda's last month and also found ourselves comparing it with Mengrai Thai. Although they both have interesting menus, we had strikingly different experiences at the two restaurants. At Mengrai, the host Allan(?) seemed eager to point us to his most popular dishes and make a nice first impression, but as the restaurant filled up the service quickly degraded. He was rushing to provide personal attention to each table, while his servers had no idea which tables the food was going to, didn't know what they were serving you, and there were really long waits between courses. That's a big problem when the meal consists of many small portions of unfamiliar dishes. (I'm used to a certain level of service when I'm going for cheap eats, but at Mengrai Thai, the service really detracted from the "gourmet cuisine".) In contrast, the service at Lindas was relaxed and knowledgeable, and Linda was a gracious and personable host. We also enjoyed the juicy grilled lamb rib chops. The coconut chicken soup was well balanced and perfect for a snowy evening. The night we went, the mango was not bitter but a nice contrast to the sweet rice. Now I have to go back and try more of the menu!
Sorry BokChoi about hijacking this post to rant about Mengrai Thai...
Allan did sound very eager the first time we were there as well. Always trying to please (and he does try very hard). But perhaps it is due to inexperience, he comes across as 'trying' (not totally a bad thing at all), whereas Linda seems relaxed and an expert at her craft. The comment about knowledge also jogged my memory about my last visit at Mengrai. At Linda's, she would answer my questions on the different herbs and spices she would use to flavour the curries and talk about the ingredients and where they were sourced so that I could learn more about the cuisine. This is always a highlight for me when I dine out. This is in contrast to my last visit to Mengrai where i asked the waitress what went into the fabulous coconut soup they have (served in a coconut bowl: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-...) and the waitress said she didn't know, nor did she even try to find out about it. She merely said "Oh they don't tell us things like that..." making it sound as if she's trying to keep it all a secret. It was good, but every other restaurant I have ever been to has always tried to help and share a bit of info about their cuisine and some of their dishes were much better. I wasn't asking for the exact recipe or anything.
That incident didn't leave a pleasant taste in my mouth.
I was informed that I made a mistake on the prices!!! Please note the following corrections:
Beef Penang $14.95
Mieng Kum $7.50
Thom kha gai $5.75
fish hot pot $17.95
They are even a greater deal than I had previously mentioned. Sorry for the confusion.
Great value for excellent food. The highest priced main is about $21 and that was a AAA (28 day aged) 14oz steak.
Cheers and happy eating!
Linda's is one of my top places in T.O.
You missed my two favourite dishes - the duck breast in red curry sauce and the cornish hen - still my favourite chicken dish in Toronto, But the Beef Penang is also a favourite. And so are many other dishes.
This place is a gem.
estufarian, I will try those dishes on my next visit. Thanks for the recommendations. The duck dish sounds very nice. It is quite a gem. I cannot believe it took me this long to 'discover' it. I guess I was just a bit traumatized by the Salad King visit a few years ago so thought they were the same beast.
Hmm... good question. XO sauce had dried shrimp in it, doesn't it? I can't recall that the hot sauce I'm thinking of had it (but heck, it's been a little while, so my memory may be foggy). Regardless, glad to hear they're continuing to make their own condiments in house. Good stuff.