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Foodcourt Thai at Cuisine Bangkok: Pad Thai and Chicken with Eggplant

Posted by Amie / December 6, 2010

Chicken Pad Thai at Cuisine Bangkok"What's in the sauce on the pad thai?"

...Blank stare from the man behind the counter at Cuisine Bangkok in the Faubourg foodcourt...

"Is there ketchup? Tomato sauce? Tamarind? Soy? Lime?"

...more waiting...then: "There's no lime in it. Yeah, soy, fish sauce. I don't know."

I look hopefully back at the people actually making the dishes in the half-open-kitchen behind the cash, trying in my polite Montrealer way to convince this guy with my eyes that perhaps he could ask them. No such luck.

What I did find out was:
1. There's MSG in the fish sauce, but probably no additional MSG added to the pad thai. My headache, flushed face, and anxiety attack-style reaction proved at least the first part of that was true.

2. I should have listened to my friend who told me only to eat here when the woman or the tall man was cooking. I'm not 100% convinced, but if I'm going to have pad thai, I want it to be at its best, and the best was when I went at lunchtime two weeks ago, not when I went for dinner last week. Sure enough, a woman was manning (pardon the pun) the wok at lunch, and next to her, a tall man.

Cuisine Bangkok FaubourgMontreal's best pad thai is in a foodcourt? There was no way I could believe that, so for two years I never came here. Then, finally, I decided to go see what all the fuss was about, and see if Montrealers' opinions on pad thai were more apt than their opinions on "good" sushi. Thank goodness they were.

I had one of the best pad thai's of my life. I ordered the chicken version and it was the perfect balance of hot, sour, salty and sweet, the general rule for Thai cooking. There was tamarind in the sauce for the sour, it didn't taste like commercial ketchup-y sweetness in the tomato flavour, the fish sauce and soy were just enough without giving me dry mouth for the rest of the day, and the chilies were hot without taking away from the flavour of the dish. It was perfect. And if it hadn't been perfect there was extra soy and chili sauces next to the cash to adjust to your adjust. I always adjust. I always want it hotter or saltier because it's generally too bland or too sweet, and I always have to squeeze the lime over top and still I'm never happy with the sourness, but I didn't change a thing.

I ordered the "XXXX" extra-spicy version. You can ask for one to four X's for your order, one being mild and four being extra-spicy. It was actually extra-spicy. Not a "she can't really handle it that hot" cop out. Here they figure if you order it you can have it, just don't complain afterward because they gave you what you wanted. I didn't complain.

So the sauce was perfect and plentiful (finally, no more dried-out take-out thai!), and really, it's all about the sauce, but what else made this the perfect pad thai?, The egg and tofu, believe it or not. The egg was fluffy and not overcooked for once because it came straight onto the plate from the wok. 15 minutes later it had kept cooking just enough to make it less perfect, but the first half of the meal was heaven. I never wax poetic about tofu, but these were little pillows of soft fluff that melted in my mouth a lot like the egg and were the perfect textural balance to the crispy bean sprouts. Actually, the dish was all about textures, from the softened but not mushy rice noodles to the crunchy peanuts and the chewy chicken. The chicken was the only let down. It was just big hacked-up pieces of meat whose only purpose was to add body to the sauce through its melted fat. Which is did nicely.

It was SO much pad thai. For about $7 you'll be full for the rest of the day. There's a lot of oil in it to balance the heat with the rest of the flavours and keep the noodles from sticking together, so it's maybe not wise to eat this all the time in its entirety, but it's tempting because you know it's not going to get better by sticking it in your fridge overnight. The foodcourt is the perfect place for this, believe it or not, since the wok-ing guarantees freshness (well, hotness...). No waiting for all your table's items to be ready and then having them sit under heat lamps until they're picked up by the server. The lunchtime rush here ensures everything comes out piping hot and you'll probably burn your mouth, which is ideal.

So, yeah, a foodcourt. "Not Cuisine Bangkok 2", the restaurant on Ste-Catherine just a little west of the Faubourg, as my friend had also advised. This time I'll listen to her advice, since her reason was that the same people aren't cooking, and that made all the difference in the world, as I found out.

See, I went back for supper. The foodcourt stays open into the evening, so you can get your pad thai fix for lunch or dinner, except when I went back with Greg Bouchard, my fellow Midnight Poutine podcaster and self-proclaimed Montreal pad thai afficionado, it just wasn't the same. I got the tofu pad thai because I'd loved the small amount of tofu on the chicken pad thai so much that it was time to see if a whole meal of the stuff was as good. Again, I got it extra spicy.

This time there was heat and no flavour balance. The sourness was gone. There were no condiments to adjust for that. It was a little dry, too. Turned out it was because it was the vegetarian version since Greg's version of the chicken pad thai (just XXX - "spicy") was almost as good as my lunch pad thai had been. I think it was because the fat from the chicken made it juicier, but it was also more sour, thus better, which you wouldn't think would be dependent on the chicken or tofu choice.

The other most popular item on the menu was the chicken and eggplant, said the server. So I tried that too. Huge let-down. The same hacked-up chicken pieces couldn't fix this sauce. I got it extra-spicy again, but it just tasted like heat and salt. There's no lime or tamarind involved in the plate, so it's not supposed to be sour like the pad thai, but it was just a bit...boring. Eggplant sucks up oil like an vacuum, which is what makes it so delicious, but these big pieces were just bland since the sauce didn't really add much to the vacuum effect. I also think this dish had a ton more MSG, since my lunch pad thai hadn't given me a crazy headache like I got after this second meal.

Verdict? Come here for lunch, but only when the "woman or tall man" are working. It's easier to tell when the woman is working than figure out who the "tall man" is, so maybe just stick with her. I'm sure everything else on the menu is decent, but it's all about the pad thai. The green curry is also popular, but it's made from a jar of green curry paste, as it is everywhere, so it's just not going to be as unique as the flavour balancing act of the pad thai. Sure, every meal of pad thai you get here is going to be a little different since it's made individually to order, and the wok-er doesn't taste each one to adjust the tastes. And it's not a McDonalds where everything is pre-sized, pre-mixed and pre-packaged, so if you're looking for cookie-cutter Thai, I can't believe I actually have to say DON'T come to the foodcourt. Weird...

By the way, Greg says the pad thai here has nothing on Cash 'N Curry, a Malaysian BYOB on the Plateau...I feel a throwdown coming on.

Photos: "Chicken Pad Thai (medium spicy, please)" by Mister Sleep from the Midnight Poutine Flickr Pool

"Cuisine Bangkok Reborn" by bopuc from Flickr

Cuisine Bangkok (the foodcourt, not the restaurant)
Le Faubourg, 3rd floor
1616 Ste-Catherine West
Hours: Mon-Sat 11am-9pm, Sun noon-5?
Cost: About $7, plus a quarter for a large take-out container. Small ones are apparently you could get your meal on a plastic plate and then a mall styrofoam take-out container for the leftovers and kill the environment even more but save some money...



J / December 21, 2010 at 04:24 pm
I agree that this is the best Pad Thai in Montreal. It is, however, very far from the authentic pad thai. The owners should be commended on understanding exactly what Canadian people want (WE WANT SAUCE) to find in their 'exotic' fare without making it seem too Canadian. Pad Thai is usually a dry-style stir fried noodle dish. I find this same problem trying to find vietnamese stir fried noodles without the starchy chinese-style sauce (which would be considered an atrocity to any Vietnamese)...

Back to Bangkok Express, their curries are also very good, yes (and by the way, all Thai curries are traditionally made from paste... except Massaman or Penang curry which is usually made with yellow curry powder), and their chili and basil eggplant is REALLY good.
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