A fat baby girl is a pookie, according to the svelte owner of this west end Thai restaurant. But not, she is quick to add, an ugly fat baby girl. No, no. A pookie is a cute stoutie. It was the nickname given her by her dad. And now the name of her new restaurant.
Pookie’s is the third restaurant in three years to occupy this space at Unit 7, 2280 Carling, Avenue. It took over from the Indian restaurant Cumin and Goan, and before that it was the home, briefly, of Kamals, a long running Lebanese restaurant that had settled in many addresses around the city before finally stage lefting. And before that, this address housed an eastern European restaurant the name of which escapes me.
Thjs awkward location may be a restaurants slayer. It would be a shame if it killed Pookie’s. I like this place. I like the redecoration job, I like the service and I think the food is a cut above.
Pookie’s is hidden from the street, in the end unit of a mini mall that runs south off a divided section of Carling Avenue, west of Woodroffe. (If you’re coming from the east, you’ll need to drive past the place and make a U-turn.) Look for the bright orange and red street-side sign.
Completely redecorated, Pookie’s is as elegant as an end unit in a mini mall can hope to be. The place is immaculate. Silk cloths, dark-jewel-tone walls, fresh flowers and candlelight create the mood. Thai tapestries further it. Get rid of the scented candles that obliterate the perfume of the food, and it will be perfect.
Pookie’s chef, Wan Kaewbuarabut, hails from across the river, Chez le Thai in Gatineau (Hull), and he’s brought the same high level of cooking with him.
The menu may be slightly shorter than those of most Thai eateries in town, but with many of the same predictable offerings – spring rolls and salad rolls, sate and fish cakes, stir fries and noodle dishes and curries of varying colours and intensities, some soothed with coconut milk, and some zippier without.
Salads have serious pow, as Thai salads are supposed to, and they delight the mouth with crunchy textures and cleansing flavours. Somtam is green papaya salad with longbean and kanomjeen (thin noodles). Nua Nam Tok heaps pleasantly chewy strips of grilled beef with chopped cilantro and mint, onion and hot peppers in a sour-hot dressing of lime, sugar, chillies and fish sauce. Add some sticky rice and you have a zippy lunch. I would return for this alone.
I might return for the prawn toast too. It’s a deliciously greasy starter of soft, aromatic shrimp paste on triangles of well oiled toast, furnished with a homemade sauce based on cucumber and roasted peanut. If you fret about such things, a healthier starter would be the fresh spring rolls that wrap tofu and vegetables with fresh basil and serves them with a sweet and sour tamarind sauce.
There are stir-fried dishes – beef with red chilli paste, longbean and basil, or perfumed with lemongrass, galanga and pepper, paired with steamed broccoli. Flavours are bright, sauces are light, ingredients are fresh and presentation is pretty. There is panaeng – red curry of chicken and one of beef – with coconut milk to soothe (#31) or without (#37) if you like the pain. (If you don’t, order it mild or medium.) Wedges of eggplant, soft at their seeded centre, but still with chew closer to the purple skin, are surrounded with bamboo shoots and soft lengths of chicken in a lightly sweet green chili with coconut curry. They do fish well here – fillet of tilapia topped with sweet, sour and spicy vegetables.
There is Asian beer to go with this food, and the house lemongrass tea is a soothing option. The wine list is a work in progress. Pookie tells me the offerings will grow, but for now there’s a Pelee Island white and red, full stop.
Coconut ice cream is the fine and fattening way to end a Pookie meal.