At the risk of sounding redundant, I was nagged by the strange feeling that I had been there before. I was jaded, yet again. Black and red walls, dim lighting, inappropriate, but clearly unintentional ornaments. Those fish stenciled on the walls were still there, as if ghostly pulses still stirring from the dreaded place it once was, and, strangely, still was. It was Joey and I, and no one else gazing at a long, somewhat familiar menu. Long, familiar, and more expensive than I would have liked, which may be one of few thrilling setbacks to Red Ginger restaurant. Yes comrades, I’ve had my fill of 3 dollar Vietnamese coffees and can’t help but feel a little cheated when similar restaurants scatter the city’s landscape with much cheaper cheques. So before you enter, be marginally prepared.
Before we were well on our way to ordering, Joey strained with the waiter for soup, soon calmed by my suggestion that he get a small bowl of pho, lest he want something he couldn’t finish. But admittedly, I was wrong. Finish he did, in no time, and while I waited for my papaya salad, sticky rice, and tamarind sauté, the smells were breaking my heart, reminiscing with my past self about the cold days I spent in Mummy’s kitchen- my old Thai employer- warmed by chili peppers, wok hei, and insurmountable amounts of coffee mixed with coconut milk and honey. But pleasant remembrances were few and far between, my glazed gaze broken by the chintzy soup Joey was slurping. Barely any onions, greens, and no coriander to be seen. I told him he’d be better off eating it at my house. But again, eat it he did.
And it seemed a good eternity before my papaya salad was brought to me, especially since we, like the fish on the wall, were the only other specters occupying the restaurant that night.
I was visually apprehensive about the look of the thing, piled atop a julienne of crunchy pale green papaya, were dull whole peanuts, squeezed together with immature tomatoes, garlic, more fish sauce than I would have liked, sugar, and the squashed rinds of lime. How those, along with the knarly end piece of garlic wound up in the dish wasn’t beyond me, but it certainly did a good job of adding to my frustration with the pricey appetizer. I hoped my rice would get me back on track to a pleasant meal, but I was served with another fickle purchase. A knobby square of sticky rice, steamed to dryness in some corners lay in wait, and all I could think about were the mounds Mummy and I would pile into a wicker basket and give to customers. Still, I did what I could to enjoy it, rolling it and dipping it in the sweet salty dressing.
|There's that rind again . . .|
The tamarind sauté was a fabulous change, and not something I catch in many other places. Slices of beef battered and deep fried were stir fried along with red peppers and deep fried onions in a sweet tamarind sauce. Charred by the wok, and nuanced by ginger, each airy protuberant piece delivered that bright sugary flavor I wanted with anything tamarind, and any chewiness helped it all linger. It was a fabulous choice, and everything I expected. Two could have easily shared it, but it was for my stomach only. The Red Ginger on the other hand, isn’t wholly for my heart.
Red Ginger Modern Thai Viet Cuisine
465 Highland Rd W,
SUN-THU: 11:00 am- 9:30pm
FRI & SAT: 11:00 am- 10:00pm