Babelfish Bistro 80 Macdonell St., Guelph Tuesday to Saturday at…
Sombat the Thai Guy
Address: #4-565 Woodlawn Road W, Guelph
Open: Mon-Thur 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m.; Fri-Sat 11 a.m.-11 p.m.
Cost: Dinner for two is about $35-$40
Contact: 519-766-1669; sombatthethaiguy.ca
Amuse-bouche: Sombat the Thai Guy has the great sing-songy name going for him and as well a pretty good kway teow pad Thai, the popular Thai dish but one that may have migrated from Chinese cooking. Other decent dishes touch down on the menu in a few places too.
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I have of late been on a quest of sorts for the best pad Thai I can find in these parts, short of travelling to Bangkok or Lampang.
When done right, the noodle dish (correctly, kway teow pad Thai) can shine with the brilliance of a scattering of a few veg, some crisp tofu and bean sprouts, coriander, lime, a bit of protein or another, the heat of chilli pepper, green onions, peanuts, and tamarind—the sweet-sour pulp of an Asian fruit-tree pod that is the main ingredient in Worcestershire sauce. It’s likely that the dish came to Thailand via Chinese cookery, interestingly enough.
There are a few good pad Thais about, indeed. Too many, however, are hit and miss, sometimes executed with a deft hand creating a balance of flavours and at other times dumped on a plate with the noodles either still slightly chalky inside or insipidly limp and mushy. Even worse is the version that seems to substitute a weak tomato paste.
And just because it is not a composed dish but one more casual in its plating, there’s no excuse for simply dumping the ingredients hodge-podege on a platter: that reveals only a flaccid attitude to presentation and a general lack of interest, if not talent, in the cooking. With lots of fresh and colourful ingredients at hand, there are lots of ways to make a pile of noodles attractive and tempting.
Sombat the Thai has the energy and interest in presenting the best pad Thai that he can, I believe, even though the restaurant sits somewhat sadly in a virtually deserted retail plaza in the north part of Guelph.
Inside, we might say that the decor is similarly sad at worst, or classic retail-mall restaurant minimalist at best. The service can be low-key, generally prompt and friendly, though a bit more engagement and energy doesn’t hurt either.
The large menu hits the key notes for what is expected of a North American Thai restaurant, with a couple of notes a bit flat on this visit. A large appetizer sampler plate could satisfy three people ($12.95)—but only if the kitchen hits the mark on the half-dozen or so items on the mini-smorgasbord.
Fresh rolls with shrimp, vermicelli and mint are decent enough in flavour and texture, though a couple of beef satays, marinated in coconut and curry, had spent a little too much time on the grill and had gotten rather dry.
Crispy spring rolls have chicken glass noodles, carrot and mushrooms and are good in that they are not greasy; not so good in that in a few spots they are burned (is the microwave the culprit?).
I’ve had Sombat’s shrimp rolls on a few occasions, and while the shrimp is tender and sweet it always disappoints in that the morsels are overwhelmed by the dough wrapper. I’m really not too sure what is happening with a oddly gelatinous peanut sauce whose texture was unique to say the least.
A spicy beef stir fry ($9.95) has a pleasant red curry paste, some bamboo shoots, runner beans, sweet peppers, basil, onion and luscious coconut cream (that in fact makes up nicely for some slightly dry beef). As a whole the dish is quite good and provides a considerable chilli wallop, however.
Emerald chicken curry ($8.95) has that wonderful foundation of sweetish coconut and tender pieces of chicken, bamboo shoots, lime, a bit of eggplant and basil. The remarkable element of such a dish—and you can’t find this all the time—is the way it can be refreshing on the palate.
The note to end on, and the one which seems to best sum up Sombat the Thai Guy (I do love that name) is the pad Thai ($8.95). Bristling with lively tamarind flavour, the noodles on this visit were cooked perfectly with just a bit of tooth to them. The colours and presentation were spot on with a nice section of lime, bean sprouts and a teaspoon or so of chilli pepper flakes at the side in a little pile.
Therein is the spicy rub. Ask for medium heat at Sombat, and it can be quite hot indeed. I’m not saying bad hot, but hot enough to cause a good tingle and lingering molecule-bouncing in the mouth. It gives the dish some zip, no doubt: Sombat the Thai Guy’s pad Thai has a healthy dosing of energy from which the plaza outside could certainly benefit.
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Restaurant reviews are based on anonymous and unannounced visits to the establishments. Restaurants do not pay for any portion of the reviewer’s meal. Listen to “The Food Show” Sundays at noon on 570 All News Radio. Andrew Coppolino can be reached at email@example.com.
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