A little while ago, my girlfriend came home with an interesting looking invitation to a grand opening for Xaphire (530 Eglinton West, between Avenue and Spadina). We went last night and it was a treat.
As you approach the place, you get a full view of the interior via the floor to ceiling window. The colour scheme is almost arctic (white, silver, and blue), but this is softened by a great wood floor that could have come from a century old farm-house, and a proliferation of flowers. The predominant feature of the place though, is the walls. Lighting from above and below catches what I heard described as everything from "squared-off waves" to "shadow bumps". Whatever you call it, the look balances the room perfectly and the effect is stunning.
Wow, that is the most I've ever written about anything besides food in a review, but the decor sets the tone for the meal.
As we entered, we were warmly greeted by the waitstaff, who were efficient and friendly all night.
The format started off cocktail party style, with typical Thai and Vietnamese delicacies like spring rolls, and spiced beef rolled in exotic leaves and grilled. Coconut milk marinated chicken skewers with a hint of curry? were definitely a highlight. Cold dishes were available from a central buffet. The green mango salad was exemplary, from its profusion of colour and numerous ingredients, to it's dressing, which found that elusive harmony between sweet and tart. I am not a great fan of lotus salad, but my girlfriend couldn't get enough of it. This was fine with me, because I kept stealing the shrimp that came with it.
Just as everyone seemed to be getting "cocktail party full", there was a break in the food. Charles, the owner/chef (/waiter/bartender/dishwasher, something that always makes you feel that their heart is in it), came out and chatted. It turns out that this is his second restaurant, opened after a short hiatus. He used to own one of the first Thai restaurants in Toronto, "Pad Thai" downtown, but closed due to troubles with his landlord. This time he owns the location and things look good to go. His girlfriend? manages the place, apparently well. I haven't seen many new restaurants open that smoothly.
With Charles back in the kitchen, things started firing again. Steamed rice with green chicken curry, (great flavour. they had to keep it relatively tame for general consumption, but I can't wait to try it when I can order it extra spicy,) bowls of fragrant lemon grass soup, with or without coconut milk (try the one with coconut milk, its silky texture and citrus aroma are bound to cure any cold), platters of fried rice, (again, not a fan, but the speed with which it disappeared spoke volumes). And finally, last but certainly not least, a pad thai that is sure to be a contender in the next Chowhound free-for-all debate. Ultra traditional and ultra good. Later on came nicely medium rare steaks with a distinctly asian flare (lemon grass and I would guess szechwan peppercorns), but still enough garlic to please the most die hard backyard BBQ'er. My gf found it just a tad chewy, but she's not a real red meat fan and when she does eat it it's usually filet. I liked the fact that they used sirloin. Striploin or tenderloin wouln't have enough natural flavour to hold up to the bold seasonings.
The wines were a nice match to everthing served. The white was a tart Gewurtztraminer which was nice with the hors d'oeuvres and soups, while the blend of Cab, Gamay Noir, and Merlot provided an excellent complement to the curries, the pad thai, and especially the steaks. I took a sneak peak at the not yet finalized wine list, and was more than happy with the range of Beaujolais through Gamay and Pinot Noir, all the way to some nice Zinfandel. Not a huge white drinker, I only skimmed that side of it.
My gf and I were trying to figure out prices all night. With a menu absent, (usually an ominous sign), we were stumped by the high-class appearance and excellent flavour/presentation, and the tendency of Thai/Vietnamese food to be towards the lower end of the scale. Being the intelligent one, she simply asked the waiter for a menu. We couldn't believe it! Many tasty options for <$10. The only dishes over about $13 were the steaks, and those were about $16. This is a perfect example of the opposite of what VVM so aptly refered to as the Emperor's New Clothes phenomenon (when the restaurant fools you into thinking the food will be good just because the prices are high). We were prepared to pay, per head, what we could both eat for. I only hope that this doesn't have the opposite effect for Xaphire.
Other interesting treats revealed by the menu were: baby squid stuffed with vermicelli, black mushrooms, and ground chicken; boned stuffed drumsticks; asian style mussels; some tasty looking pho; kolbi beef ribs; and coconut ice cream.
Thai, Vietnamese, and Canadian fusion that treated two of my favourite Asian cuisines with respect, while still managing to cater to the North American palate. I will definitely be going back to Xaphire, (regular service opening on Friday).
416 482 3380