Dining Out: Thai Flame

Thai Flame’s curries were bang-on, whether they were of the yellow, green or red variety. This is the green curry lunch combo. (Photo: Peter Hum/Ottawa Citizen)

Thai Flame

Address: 1902 Robertson Rd., Suite 104, 613-695-9188, thai-flame.ca

Hours: Monday to Thursday 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., 5 to 9 p.m., Friday 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., 5 to 10 p.m., Saturday 5 to 10 p.m., Sunday 5 to 9 p.m.

Prices: $8 to $13 per dish

Access: No steps to entrance or washrooms

For many years, the dishes that have called out to me like sirens from any Thai restaurant’s menu have been the salads.

No offence, curries, stir-fries and noodle platters. What really gets my mouth watering are the dishes featuring chicken, beef, shrimp, papaya or mango, liberally dressed with magic combinations that frequently stress chili, lime juice, fish sauce, onions and mint.

They don’t knock me out every time. With sub-standard examples, the beef can be tough, or the chicken can be drab, or the dressing can be unbalanced, or worse, too simple or tepid. But when the featured ingredient shines and the dressing’s varied flavours sing loudly and in harmony, the people eating with me have to fight me off.

The enticing Yum Gai Yang at Thai Flame ticks off all the boxes — meaty, salty, sour, sweet, herbaceous, fresh, crunchy. (Photo: Peter Hum)

All of this is to help you understand why I’m so won over by the Yum Gai Yang at Thai Flame in Bells Corners. The dish takes moist bits of barbecued chicken, slivers of purple cabbage, onion, rings of scallion and mint galore, and adds a vibrant, superior dressing. The dish ticks off all the boxes — meaty, salty, sour, sweet, herbaceous, fresh, crunchy — and I might be eating it several times a week if Thai Flame were on my way home.

For me, it was the highlight of a very satisfying dinner at the small, four-month-old restaurant in a very unassuming Robertson Road strip mall. But that’s not to dismiss the other dishes, most of which impressed with their own rich flavours and attractive attention to detail and craft.

Multiple appetizers struck the right notes. Mango salad asserted tart and punchy flavours. Chicken satay skewers were moist and lightly curried, served with a house-made peanut sauce. Spring rolls, whether encasing whole shrimp or vegetable stuffings, were crisp, fresh, tasty and not greasy. Small, plump fish cakes were more mild but cleanly executed.

For a feeling of luxury, the coconut-milk-laced Tom Yum Gai and Tom Yum Goong soups, with their tender chicken and shrimp respectively, and mouth-filling flavours and textures, could not be beat.

Those soups, priced at $7.50 and $8, struck me as more expensive than usual. But they were bigger and better than what I’ve tasted elsewhere, and Thai Flame’s other prices, which range between $8 and $13 per dish, are very reasonable.

Thai Flame’s curries were bang-on, whether they were of the yellow, green or red variety. My favourite was the red panang curry, with its peanut-enhanced sauce. I’ll note that while the curry provides some mellow heat, it, and other Thai Flame dishes, seem to be calibrated on the lower end of the chili scale. If you want to perk up your plates, ask for some chili sauce on the side — the restaurant will gladly oblige.

Among the several stir-fries I tried, the winner was the peppery but nuanced, shrimp-studded Tod Gratiem Prik Thai (if that name registers as a tongue-twister for you, then fear not, as the dishes are all numbered and the restaurant’s staff speak fluent English.)

Fried rice with chicken and egg, ordered explicitly for the spice-averse children at the table, was nicely savoury and not greasy, although the chicken was dry. Pad Thai was deftly made but its sauce seemed toned down (perhaps it too had been made with the children in mind). Still, it had some tamarind tang to it, and thankfully no ketchupy sweetness.

The restaurant itself is simply decorated, with Thai art on its white walls, flowers and red cloths on its tables. I’m usually not a fan of TVs in dining rooms, but since this one was tuned to Thai programming, I’ll make an exception. Generally, I didn’t mind Thai Flame’s lack of opulence, but during a lunch visit, I was more bothered by it being a little chilly — the space heater just wasn’t doing the job.

To his credit, the restaurant’s manager thoughtfully offered some complimentary chili- and lemongrass-spiked soup. It was much appreciated, as were the mammoth lunch specials of curry, rice, salad, spring rolls and chicken satay.

Interviewed after I’d eaten my two meals, Norm Souphilavong said that his wife Laddavone, who is also the restaurant’s owner, cooked in the kitchen along with her sister. He added that he and his wife are Laotian, and that the restaurant can prepare Laotian variations on some Thai dishes, such as my much-loved Yum Gai Yang, upon request.

Back in 2003 and 2004, the Souphilavongs, who have also worked in Ottawa’s tech sector, had the That Luang Thai-Vietnamese restaurant in West Wellington. Let’s hope that Thai Flame has a longer run than the couple’s first eatery, as its food certainly warrants one.

phum@ottawacitizen.com

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