I first came to know of Talay Thai through the rave reviews from trusted friends, who described to me this small restaurant with great decor, serving the best Thai food in the city. Walking through the front door, I began to imagine that they were right. The restaurant was indeed small, and it certainly has great decor, but were they correct about the food?
In short, I cannot overstate how much I enjoyed the Tom Kha Kai soup. Creamy coconut chicken stock with rich aromas of lemongrass and cilantro. I would have ordered a second bowl, but my main dish was already being brought from the kitchen - spicy Thai fried rice, apparently served in a pineapple. Topped with thick cut vegetables and generous servings of chicken, the presentation was great, but the flavour just wasn't there.
Thus, I am left to continue my search for an Ottawa area restaurant that serves a spicy Thai fried rice dish that has distinguishable flavours and an assortment of texture, as opposed to blending into nothing more than a slightly pleasant uniform mush. I’m actually somewhat embarrassed to say that the closest thing I've found to date is the Thai Express outlet in your local food court. It’s not just their unique take-away boxes, but the rice is always perfectly cooked with consistent texture, the pineapple is fresh, and the spices are in perfect harmony. You can disagree with me if you want, but if Thai Express simply cut down on the amount of grease they use, they might have the best Thai fried rice in the city.
Now, if you are that person looking to introduce someone to Thai food, there are at least two reasons Talay Thai is a better choice than Thai Express. First, you won’t have to compete against hordes of hungry shoppers for a table and defend it with your life while you eat. Second, your guests will be too awestruck by the picture perfect atmosphere and plate presentation of Talay Thai to notice that aside from the soup, the food doesn’t actually taste like much.
Talay Thai is a nice looking restaurant. It is decorated in this great dark shade of orange, it has just the right number of beautiful dark wood tables, leather-covered chairs and a soothing fountain at the front door. Talay Thai also has nice looking food. The Tom Kha Kai that I ordered (#12 on the menu) came out looking great. A nice traditional hot and sour chicken soup with mushrooms, lemongrass and coconut milk. And when my Pad Thai was placed before me, it was presented beautifully. Nicely coated noodles, topped with some crushed peanuts and a slice of red bell pepper. I could even spot some large slices of chicken, which made my mouth water. Unfortunately, Talay Thai does not have nice tasting food. It was the best Thai food I've ever seen, but when I got to the eating part, I was fairly disappointed. The soup didn't have the slight kick that I have come to expect from hot and sour soup; it just tasted like hot coconut milk. And although the Pad Thai was fully coated in sauce, I had a hard time pinpointing any identifiable flavour.
To be totally honest, Talay was a disappointing Thai experience for me. I've been searching for a great Thai restaurant in Ottawa for the past several years, and I've always come away just a little saddened from every Thai restaurant that I've tried. I read some reviews about Talay, and some people even said that they, too, had been disappointed by other restaurants, and that Talay restored their hope in good Thai food. I didn't have that experience. Maybe I'm missing something. Maybe real, authentic Thai food is supposed to be bland, and the 'good' Thai food I've experienced in the past was just the Canadian version. Maybe I'm looking for something that doesn't exist. Or maybe, just maybe, that perfect Thai food restaurant is still waiting for me, out there somewhere...
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