Sitting as it is at the corner of Bank and Catherine streets, with MacEwen gas across the street and the Queensway overpass looming overhead, we are not expecting much in the looks department from this new Thai restaurant.
But Talay Thai, now six months old, is actually quite pretty. Its comely look has much to do with colour — mango-orange walls and vibrant paintings — and with the fact that things match — the smart leather-covered chairs, the dozen dark wood tables set with funky cutlery, flowers, bamboo mats. And though your jaw doesn’t exactly drop as you enter, the feel of the place pleasantly surprises.
Our server — whom I recognize from a number of Thai restaurants around town (Anna, Sweet Basil, Bangkok Noodle House) — tells us that Pookie’s (another good Thai restaurant in another tricky location) and Talay share the same decorator. If you know Pookie, this restaurant will feel familiar.
And, like Pookie, the food is a cut above.
While Talay is hardly taking Ottawa’s brand of Thai restaurant in any fabulous new direction — we’re still waiting on that to happen — its execution of the what-you’d-expects (the classic soups, dough-wrapped starters, salads, curries, stir-fries and pad dishes) — is very sound.
What’s more, they’re fairly priced, generously portioned, beautifully presented and kindly served.
My first taste of Talay was a quick, late lunch — $13.95 bought me the daily special: a small cup of clear soup (no rousing flavour but a gentle, clean beginning) and four small dishes, served with rice. A curry, a stir-fry, a deep fried won ton thing (stuffed with chicken and drizzled with a sweet chili sauce) and a refreshingly tart mango salad with wonderful spicy-sour, crunchy-soft balance.
This was no dumbed-down version of yum.
Our order of satÃ© and four skewers of chicken arrives and though the meat is a bit salty, a bit squeaky, it is moist enough and comes with a deliciously gritty peanut sauce. That same good peanut sauce appears in a shrimp dish we enjoy.
If you like noodles, there is a small selection of pad dishes, and if you tire of the ubiquitous pad thai, particularly good is the spicier pad kee mao, more savoury than sweet, anchored with slippery noodles and with a mix of shrimp, sprouts, ground peanuts, egg, green onion and tofu. The pepper level is pronounced, but not outrageous. If you’re a chilihead and want outrageous, ask for the heat to be turned up. Or order what’s called the “jungle curry.”
We don’t. But can suggest other curries — the green, the red. Not brow-moppers, but deeply flavourful.
Stir-fries tend to be on the sweet side, but vegetables are bright and crisp, meats are tender and sauces are fragrant. Fish dishes feature frozen tilapia, so we took a miss. (Talay, we are told, means ocean. Perhaps it could work on strengthening its seafood dishes.)
Desserts arrive dressed with pretty puddles of patterned sauce. The mango ice cream is made in-house, and there’s a pleasant crÃ¨me brÃ»lÃ©e made with coconut cream.
Talay has a decent wine list, though only the Chilean house comes by the glass. The beer list checks all the usual popular Asian bottles — Singha, Tsingtao, Tiger, Asahi.
All in all, a nice night out in a pretty little restaurant by the Queensway.