From the outside Circle Thai looks inviting. From the white linen tablecloth, contemporary atmosphere, and interesting menu which includes a robust selection of crab and lobster dishes I thought I had entered into a restaurant which would finally bridge the gap between the, all to ordinary modern Thai restaurants in Toronto, and the higher end Asian fusion restaurants downtown.
Sadly, what I quickly realized was that Circle Thai, far from bridging any gap, was actually providing the biggest disservice to all that is good and exotic about Thai cuisine (much like what Chop Suey and General Tao’s Chicken is to Chinese cuisine).
Let’s break down my frustration (or contempt) by category, I’ll start with the pros and work my way to the cons:
I have seen in a few other post that services was the weakest link for this restaurant. I am assuming that these people didn’t make it to the actual appetizers. Service overall was good albeit inexperienced. Plates were swiftly taken away after an acceptable pause between courses. More attention could have been paid to our drinks (or should I say empty drinks). Staff was courteous and friendly. We ate during a slow period (3 servers to about 4-5 occupied tables) – so please understand I am not critiquing over exerted staff.
Where to start with this one? Pretentious - yes; authentic - no. I think we can all agree that when you think Thai food you do not think eclectic jazz and white tablecloths? I want to be immersed in a culture while eating – eating out should always be an experience. What I found was a horrible mish-mash of cultures battling it out leaving me confused and certainly not inspired. Toronto has such a diversity to celebrate. What Circle Thai has unleashed is an unabashed attempt to create an artificial fine dining atmosphere – it came off as being simply a cheap charlatan wrapped in the fine artifacts that make up chic New York bistros of the early 2000s.
Cuisine and Price:
Let me preface this by stating that Circle Thai states it is a fine dining restaurant. To me such a statement instantly raising the bar – why eat here when pages of the phone book are devoted to other Thai or Cambodian cuisine?
Appetizers – Lacked any thought or style. There was a feeling that the chef simply heated up some frozen hors d'oeuvres found at the local M&Ms. The most prevalent flavour was “deep fried.” Nothing about the items jumped out at me – in fact I knew which a bit or two that I was going to be thoroughly disappointed with this meal. The mango salad was bland failing to hit upon the accents provided by simply a few hot chilies.
Mains – The general uninspiring theme followed us into the main course…
The peanut beef satay was an abomination. Slices of grayish beef laid limp in a modern bowl with a few pieces of sweet green pepper and yellow onion. I kept asking myself where the satay was. What I received was a gravy of sorts (and not a good gravy to begin with) that started with a beefy taste and ended on notes of fish. Nowhere was there a hint of peanut.
Fried Rice was equally unappealing – cooked long before it had the consistency of cardboard and the taste that matched the look. No strong flavours were present and the few pieces of seafood and chicken seemed like an afterthought to add bulk to this dish.
Finally, the Pad Thai, a mainstay of North American Thai restaurants – a meal that has to be actively worked at to fail did just that, fail. Flavours again were bland and uninspiring. The deep red hue made more than one of us wonder if ketchup was the main ingredient in the sauce. Placing your fork in the meal and raising it brought about 1/3 of the Pad Thai with it. I have had bad Pad Thai before – both at restaurants and from boxes bought at my local grocery store. But Circle Thai exceeded my expectations for providing a dish that was so sub-par as to literally turn me off Thai food if this was my first time tasting it.
Price – Right off the top prices were low. Appetizers in the $5-15 range and mains in the $10-25 range (with some outliers). Not what you would expect from a “fine” dining restaurant. Somehow I still left the place wondering why I paid for what I ate. A simple case of buyers remorse or what a victim of a con feels, in either case I was shocked and awed by my frustration and anger. The food simply did not even come close to providing value for the already low prices. I think it’s time management considered slashing prices or using the Argentinean peso as their method of currency.
A fumbling of poor tastes and confusing and artificial atmosphere brought out the worst in Circle Thai. Fine dining it was not. Remove the white linen for bare tables and the contemporary style for whitewashed walls and there is a chance that this restaurant would have “got it right” with their cuisine. Remove the term “fine” with “discount” dining and the food would have matched the restaurants perception. This was a classic Americanization of Thai food that did not provide any exotic tastes or flavours and it is why I warn all prospective cliental – abandon hope, all ye who enter here.