For me, consistency is a big deal when dining out. I will axe a restaurant from my list if it has an off day -- yep, I'm merciless. So the fact that I've been going to Sawasdee on Main for more than a decade speaks volumes.
Eight of us went last night and had a really great meal in a very bustling, busy room. We ordered two kinds of soup (tom kha ghai and tom yum goong), the stuffed chicken wings, som tam, larb moo, basil beef, Panang chicken curry, pad thai, mixed vegetables, garlic pepper pork, and lots of rice. Five of the crew ordered Singha beer, and we all had dessert (either deep fried bananas with coconut, mango or vanilla ice cream or just ice cream). Tab, tax and tip in: $26 a head. Service was attentive except for water-glass-filling which can be a problem when eating spicy food.
Now to the food: Both soups were excellent, the tom yum nicely sour and chile-ish (we tend to order medium to appease spicey fearers, but the kitchen here gently steers the flames in the appropriate direction for each dish) and the tom kha just unctuous enough and also nicely tangy/sweet.
The chicken wings were good, little balls of deep fried deboned chicken stuffed with mushrooms and rice noodles served with the house version of sweet and sour sauce , and I would definitely order them again. The funny thing is I've never tried this dish before anywhere, and I've seen it on the menu of many Thai restaurants.
The som tam was a hit all around -- a couple of my co-diners had never had green papaya before and were instant converts. It was very fresh, lightly sauced but flavourful and crisp. The larb moo was a bit of a sleeper -- first bite underwhelming, second bite neutral, third bite "hmm" and fourth bite woohoo! I make it at home sometimes but it is so labour intensive I prefer to order it when dining out, and it is very well done here.
The basil beef is a favourite of my brother's who lived in Thailand and says it is a very traditional dish. I find the Thai basil a bit overwhelming (not crazy about that herb) and I'm not a fan of stir-fried beef so it has never been a huge hit with me but not because it is not well executed.
The Panang curry was tender, with just the right amount of coconut milk and heat to leave a creamy, stinging impression on the tongue. The pad thai is the one dish that has never thrilled me at Sawasdee -- I think it's the noodle prep which somehow manages to be overdone and a bit tough at once, not to where it's inedible but more like "if they'd just get it al dente all is forgiven" -- from home cooking attempts I know rice noodles can be finicky but hey these guys are pros; what up?
I was much happier with the mixed veg here than I have been at other Thai restos, where they seem often to be bland to the extent that I try to talk people out of ordering. Anyway, there was a good variety, the stir frying was on point and the garlic sauce assertive without overpowering the individual veggies.
Now for the best dish (possibly ever): the garlic pepper pork here is outstanding. It seems almost to be a bit crisp while somehow remaining completely tender and non-gristly. The spices sing together, it goes so well with rice, I'm going back tomorrow for some (no, actually I'm going to La Buca but that'll be another post!).
All in all, a feast of flavours, with nothing left except a wee bit of rice and room enough for deep fried bananas and ice cream. These are not the best I've had (those were in a Cantonese resto in Waterloo, ON nearly 20 years ago) but they hit the spot along with in my case creamy mango ice cream. They were deep fried, so what's not to like?
Sawasdee Thai Restaurant
4250 Main St, Vancouver, BC V5V3P9, CA