Monday, May 30, 2011

Thai-vs.-Thai : Chiang Mai - or Vancouver?

I had a chance to eat at the Pink Elephant Thai Restaurant in Vancouver a few weeks ago. It's not an authentic Thai restaurant in the same way places like Talay Thai on Vancouver's Granville or Tom Yum on Hastings Street in Burnaby (both really good restaurants), rather it's a kind of Thai-fusion eatery, combining traditional Thai flavors with some Western touches in an upscale, modern eatery.

Thai Pink Shirt cocktail.

The food here is very good. What really made it interesting for me was my main course: Keaw Teaw Num (or Num), a.k.a., Thai Noodle Soup. I had just eaten that dish - or one very much like it - in Chiang Mai, Thailand, less than a month before, at Just Khao Soy Restaraunt. In other words, I was comparing two very similar - if not exactly the same - Thai dishes, one from Thailand, the other made in Vancouver.

First things, first, though. Started off the dinner at Pink Elephant with one of its signature cocktails: the Thai Pink Shirt. And it was served to me by a bartender in a pink shirt. Don't know if he was Thai, although he was definitely of Asian ancestry.

The drink consists of a mixture of vodka, cranberry juice, grapefruit juice and strawberry liqueur. Very tasty. I could have drank those all night, but once the food started coming, I switched to beer, opting for one of Thailand's most popular brews, Singha.

Our appetizers consisted of giant scallop seared with Thai chili and something called a "Floating Market" that consisted of deep-fried spinach tempura and tiger prawns served with spicy Thai applesauce.

A "Floating Market" at Pink Elephant Thai

On to the main course. Well, three main courses really: In addition to the noodle soup, I had an order of Pad Thai and my companion ordered Taley, a seafood combination sauteed with peppercorn and Thai spices.

(This is how you can tell it's a trendy rather than a traditional Thai eatery; in traditional Thai eateries in both Vancouver and Thailand, the practice involves ordering several different small dishes that everyone shares; at Pink Thai, it was a very western-style "one-dish-does-one" approach.)

So how did the Vancouver Thai noodle soup compare with Chiang Mai's noodle soup?

They were both darn good.

Khao Soy noodle soup in Chiang Mai.

No, I'm not sitting on the fence; fact is, they shared some similarities, but there were many differences, as well. All you have to do is look at the photos.

Khao Soy offered three choices of noodles, as well as three-different heat levels (I opted for hottest, of course - and it was hot!) and a selection of different types of meat.

Similarly,  Pink Elephant offered different meat, broth, noodle choice and topping, the latter which was extra.
The noodle soup dish at Pink Elephant.

However, the crispy noodles at Khao Soy were much bigger and crispier and numerous than the ones at Pink Elephant.

I'd still go to Pink Elephant again, mind you. As I would to Khao Soy, if I'm ever back in Chiang Mai.

One other plus for Pink Elephant: they make really good coffee - something most restaurants do not do. Unless they have "cup" in their name or used to be owned by an NHL all-star defenceman, most places just don't serve good coffee. These guys do.

And as anyone who knows me will be able to tell, I do love my coffee. So an eatery that actually serves a decent cup - not even special, mind you, just decent - scores BIG points with moi.

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