PERHAPS it's the damp chill of January getting to me, but lately I've been dreaming of Thailand.
I yearn to lie under palm fronds and drink from fresh coconuts; to swim in an opalescent ocean the colour of a robin's egg; and to eat food made tart with kafir lime and lemongrass, spiked with peppers, and scattered with cilantro and basil leaves.
A Southeast Asian vacation isn't in the cards for me this year, so I'll keep on dreaming. But we do have terrific Thai restaurants on the North Shore where I can eat my fill of the noodles and curries that remind me of sweet sunshine and warm trade winds.
The Thai House Restaurant in Lower Lonsdale is one of them.
When my cravings got bad last week we loaded up the family and headed towards the waterfront. I can still remember when the Thai House was in a rustic two-storey wooden house one block west of its current spot. That space was better suited to a hoedown than a spicy South Asian feast. With sleek booths and tables, pretty potted plants, and warm shades of brown, this modern room feels like a better fit.
We settled into a circular booth and opened the enormous menu.
As well as traditional fare, the Thai House has a selection of signature creations, seafood "fusion" picks, and plenty of options featuring ingredients you might not normally find in Thailand. It all makes for an interesting, if slightly overwhelming, read. Staff is helpful, though, and if you ask for suggestions you will quickly be pointed in the right direction.
Purists won't like it, but at the Thai House dishes can be made less or more spicy, which is helpful when dining with kids. It might have slightly backfired on me, though.
We started with a round of appetizers. According to the menu, deep fried calamari should have been marinated with Thai spices, but ours were bland. I suspect it was because I'd asked for the heat on all our dishes to be turned down a notch. I am a fan of lightly battered squid with tentacles included, tossed with seasoning and peppers. At Thai House, it is only the mantle, sliced into rings, heavily battered and deep-fried. It's worth noting that this dish was a big hit with our younger set.
We ordered our lettuce wraps with free-range ostrich meat ($14). Low in fat, cholesterol and calories, it absorbs the flavour of the sauce and fresh basil, and adds a rich counterpoint to the cool, crunchy leaves of iceberg lettuce that are provided for wrapping it in.
My favourite of our starters was the Yum Woon Sen, or traditional glass noodle salad ($12). Even made less spicy, the noodles, minced pork and plump shrimp were infused with sweet and sour flavours, a punch of saltiness from dried shrimp, and brightness from cilantro.
For our mains, we dug into boneless roasted duck, tossed with broccoli and cauliflower atop a bed of spinach ($15), and crisp, crunchy sautéed veggies under a luscious blanket of peanut sauce ($13).
But the dish that most reminded me of days spent in the tropics was the yellow curry ($15), a velvety stew of chicken, potatoes and onions in coconut cream and, the reason why it's most popular with "farang" (Thai for westerners) - subdued spices. Alongside our main dishes, we had a bowl of fluffy steamed rice cooked in coconut milk ($9.60) for sopping up the savoury sauces.
We finished by sharing a deep-fried banana with mango ice cream ($6), and cravings sated for the time being, headed home.
The bill, which also included a Tiger Beer and a glass of See Ya Later Ranch Riesling, added up to $121.35, including HST.
Visit thaihouse.com, or call 604-987-9911 for reservations or take-out.