November 26, 2013
Dining Out

Bangkok Garden, Revisited

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Cocktails and small plates on menu at relaunch . . . .

I remember when Bangkok Garden was an exotic destination on the city’s restaurant map.

The iconic restaurant introduced Torontonians to Thai food back in 1982. In those early days, it was an upscale and subtler Asian alternative for the Sai Woo crowd, jaded and sated on chow mein and sweet-and-sour spareribs. At an upstairs table laid with white linen at Bangkok Garden, I first discovered the main principle of Thai cooking: balancing sweet, hot, sour, salty and bitter flavors to satisfy the senses. I also learned, surprisingly, that cutlery (specifically, a fork and spoon) is the correct choice for the Thai table – not chopsticks.

In the intervening years, Toronto grew into a mecca for Asian food of every kind. Today, Thai restaurants, from masterful to mediocre, are commonplace. (And the diners who flock to them are still stubbornly demanding chopsticks.) Bangkok Garden got lost in the crowd.

“After 32 years, people stop noticing you,” owner Sherry Brydson told guests at a relaunch party this month. Food lovers checked out the renovated bar, sampled the small plates menu inspired by Thai street food, and were reminded that Bangkok Garden is one of four Thai restaurants in the city to receive the Thai Select Premium endorsement from the Thailand government.

I joined the crowd scene in the bar and downstairs dining room – the inviting décor all warm wood and contemporary furniture, accented with Thai artifacts. With the Elmwood Spa, the restaurant shares a historic building that was designed by the same architects responsible for Old City Hall and Casa Loma. It is on Elm St., just west of Yonge St.

     Tom Yum Siam Martini. Photo Credits: Susan Sampson

The bartender was deftly pouring signature cocktails to go with the apps and small plates, dubbed “Thai tapas.” The food was tasty, but it was the list of luscious cocktails that tempted me to go on a bender. I fell in love with the Tom Yum Siam Martini: vodka, coconut rum and lime juice, embellished with slippery lychee fruit, spicy Thai chili, and fragrant lime leaf and lemongrass.

The menu, meanwhile, includes Siam Triangles (a twist on vegetable samosas), Drunken Mussels, Thai wings, squid with coconut chipotle dip, and fresh spring rolls in rice paper wraps. I particularly like the street noodle bar, with choices such rice or egg noodles, steamed chicken breast, slivered beef, fishcakes, sprouts, cilantro, roasted peanuts and fresh chilies in vinegar. It’s called Anytime Noodle because you can order a bowl and customize it anytime you crave it.

Okay, I’m convinced. For me, Bangkok Garden is once again a destination.

     Lunchtime buffet at Bangkok Garden.