sukhothai - an off-menu family style chowmeet
brace yourselves... this might be a long one.
last week 24 chowhounds and their cohorts descended upon sukhothai for a special partly on and partly off menu meal. the tiny but brightly lit space normally only has seating for 14, so we split up over two evenings to satisfy all the rsvps. it sounds like a great time was had by all and i'm glad that people are already returning.
being a regular and having talked with them weeks in advance to organize this special meal, i was still amazed and surprised with what they provided us. we originally discussed some non-alcoholic beverages, the pad thai and khao soi (for the first timers), and about 4 other dishes up to their choosing... we ended up having 9 dishes (2 plates of each) including dessert and their fabulous thai iced tea. it was all in (tax & tip too!) for $30 per person. a couple dishes were different between the nights so i'll need a bit of help filling those gaps.
we started with fried shrimp that came with a sweet spicy dipping sauce. the shrimp were perfectly cooked and tender with a nice crunchy crust that kept up through the evening (i arrived late and had a couple set aside). the dipping sauce was quite addictive for me with its thick syrupy consistency and nice hits of bright fruity burn. i'll admit that i coveted everyone's leftover crunchy tails.
the beef salad seemed to be a group favourite with just enough crunch to all the vegetables and decent beef flavour. i thought the meat was a little tough but not problematically so. the sweet, sour, salty components were in great balance and made the dish savoury but refreshing.
the larb gai was a bit contentious, mostly because half of us really liked the solid structure of the cabbage leaf and some of us wanted something with a stronger flavour. either way it was enjoyed by all and agreed it was much better on some kind of leaf than on its own with rice. it was very subtly flavoured with mostly sour and salty notes. Nuit mentioned that if she were not operating under a halal license, she would have used pork... which i'm tempted to do at home.
larb on cabbage leaf: http://www.flickr.com/photos/41249722@N07/3883470026/in/set-72157622097573083/
i think we came to the conclusion that the fish was likely tilapia though we considered bass, but i don't recall if we got a final answer. it was steamed and served with a cilantro and lime tinged sauce that really added the flavour. it was slightly cooked more than i personally prefer and felt that the tilapia that i had on a previous visit had much more oomph to it because it was sitting in a coconut water and strong cilantro sauce which is more beneficial to such a mild fish.
some of their on menu dishes weren't as good as they could have been and i suspect it was because they were trying to keep up with us, other tables and take-out orders. it just seemed like the flavours just weren't in perfect harmony with each other and the balance was slightly off. the pad thai noodles weren't as chewy as usual but otherwise it was still very good. less sweet than most places with a decent pungency from the fish sauce and a nice burn at medium heat (extra chili spice was provided to amp up personal portions). nicely cooked shrimp and chicken accompanied though only a couple shrimp were provided for each plate.
the coconut curry was a bit surprising. it had a lot of fresh coconut flavour to it (milk and juice) with spices playing a very minor role. there were bits of tender chicken and slices of coconut flesh which really reinforced it was a coconut curry first. it was very mild overall but i really liked the simplicity of it.
coconut chicken curry: http://www.flickr.com/photos/41249722@N07/3883470576/in/set-72157622097573083/
my experience with Thai fried rice is quite limited, but i've noticed that Nuit tends to make hers on the wetter and stickier side. this time was no exception with flavours quite muted and subtle again. mostly leaning on salty and sweet with the perfectly ripe bits of pineapple and little bits of tender chicken flecked throughout. it was a nice comforting contrast to the spicier richer flavours before.
pineapple chicken fried rice: http://www.flickr.com/photos/41249722@N07/3882677871/in/set-72157622097573083/
again, the khao soi has been better but was still a great dish. i think it really settled right the next day when i had leftovers. the crunchy noodles on top were in great contrast with the very tender beef and slippery noodles. the thick spicy coconut sauce was just delicious. i can't really describe it beyond that but it regularly battles first place for me between it, the fried shrimp, and the pad thai when i'm there on a regular day. it's really quite the textural experience.
dessert was very refreshing and palate cleansing with rambutans floating in a light watery syrup spiked with a touch of lemongrass. mint and lemongrass slices were frozen into ice cubes to keep the temperature nice and cool and for a sweet presentation style. i heard the melon was excellent the day before but only ok this day, c'est la vie with fruits.
there isn't a photo of the thai iced tea so i'll briefly mention it. it is bright orange. you would think this was entirely unnatural but over the course of time that it takes to steep the tea (i would compare it to a chai in its multitude of spice ingredients) this colour comes out and is only amplified by the addition of the condensed milk. it's the only one i've had but it is great stuff. i would probably have it as a light dessert as it's a touch too sweet for me.
the service is rather casual and they didn't describe dishes much for lack of not being so forward. though proud of their food they don't seem to have an ounce of arrogance. Nuit and Jeff are just among the nicest people i've met and i was hoping they weren't letting me take advantage of them. we got into some conversation with Nuit at the end of the meal and she was happy and enthusiastic to share her cooking and love of food.
i think the evenings would have benefited from fewer people (interest was so high) to put less stress on the kitchen because it was off menu and at times only Nuit in there. and reinforcement that we'll eat anything because it seemed like she was pulling back a bit on spicing to make sure it was enjoyed by everyone.
274 Parliament St, Toronto, ON M5A, CA
i'd agree with torontojo that it's small and bustling but if you can get the table/tables by the counter in the back area then you should have enough space to make this work for a family. to be more descriptive, the place is set-up in a bit of an L-shape with the long length starting at the door. because the space tucks back a bit they can fit a table for 2 and a table for 4 in there. it is right by the counter where most of the food is ordered/picked-up from and people cash out. it's a casual place with clean lined basic wooden furniture and i'm doubting they'd have booster seats if that's something you require just because i've never seen one.
also.... nuit and jeff LOVE kids.... i've met theirs several times over (really cute) and i'm sure they'll try to make it work as best they can for you.
Too funny - I ordered take-out that night and they told me there was a large group coming in later that evening. Thanks to you guys, I had the beef salad added to my order. I would have also had the fried shrimp but they weren't prepping till later. I've been crazy busy lately so I've barely been on the boards - was this organized on the board or via the google group? Must have missed it. Oh well, I'm already a convert but would have loved to try some new dishes.
Skyline, in answer to your question, it is cozy inasmuch as it is small but not cozy in a warm, dimly lit or romantic way. It's bright and not really much in terms of atmosphere (not trying to dissuade you at all as the food and hosts are fantastic!!). I have eaten there with my small children - no problem on that front (though I don't think they have high chairs or boosters, if your kids are that small). If you were 10 or 12 people, you'd take up the whole space.
re: peppermint pate
meetups are always organized on the googlegroup though we used to put out a general posting on the boards. the estufarian and charles yu meetups were separate and on the boards. might have considered putting it on this time but before i knew it i had too many rsvps and was already over my self-imposed limits.
the fried shrimp are something i order fairly regularly as they seem to not have issue with making it on the spot. i highly suggest it next time you go and they do a really fab job of gouging large holes in the takeout containers so it doesn't steam out the crunch.
i might try to organize something again but we'll see since it's been a bit busy and i don't want to overwhelm them.
try to avoid fri-sat at 6-8pm, they're usually swamped w/ takeout orders.
psp, I've still yet to have time to finangle a set meal. I've talked to them about it already and they've been real encouraging. I actually told them to see if they can work a meal around holy basil. Won't be easy to source but they said they do get it in once in a while. Just not enough to warrant creating a dish for the regular menu.
Nuit showed me a bag of dried holy basil she just received. Haven't been back to see if she has done anything with it.