Let’s face it: Laval still suffers from a lack of good restaurants, even though so many Montrealers migrate to the suburbs. Unless you live near an immigrant neighbourhood where the locals surround themselves with their own mom-and-pop restaurants, it remains hard to find a good Szechuan, Peruvian, even French bistro establishment. (Brossard, on the South Shore, may be the only exception, with a thriving multi-country Asian community providing some of the best Asian cuisine around.) Even the good spots tend to homogenize their menu, with less spice, more sugar. In other words, Montreal’s 450 has a long way to go, I’m sad to admit.
The original Talay Thai in Montreal is well-liked by local foodies, it seems. Remembering a good review (in French) from La Presse’s fine dining critic Marie-Claude Lortie, published a little over a year ago, I dragged my family to the Laval outlet. The kitschy décor provided a good first impression, warm, welcoming and smile-inducing. However, for a Saturday night and a long weekend to boot, most tables were surprisingly empty. Hum, suburban curse or faulty cuisine?
While I claim no expertise on the subject, far from it, I’m a long-standing fan of Thai food. When I lived in Montreal, I was a frequent patron at Thai joints, from Thai Grill on Saint-Laurent to Phayatai on Guy; or my favourite of all, a nondescript food counter inside the Faubourg Sainte-Catherine food court where the eggplant and squid with basil could set your mouth on fire…
The second surprise of the evening came when every dish served was missing that spicy Thai touch. While everything was good or better, with vegetables both fresh and tender-crisp, there was no need to rush the sticky rice in a vain attempt to quench the fire from bird’s eye peppers. No ring of fire here. So much so that I asked the waiter at the end of the meal if a spicy version of dishes even existed. Turns out you have to ask for it, which kind of boggles the mind in a Thai restaurant of all places.
With an 8-year-old at the table, this lack of spice allowed him to taste everything, a plus for parents like me. However, that balancing act between salt, sugar and spice accounts for much of the charm of Asian cuisine. Without the bite of bird’s eye pepper, sugar becomes too sweet with no respite needed. Salt has nothing to exacerbate. The freshness of vegetables seduces but won’t comfort. In other words, there was a lack of pain to it all.
Laval’s Talay Thai changed ownership last November, which may explain the lack of fierceness. Or maybe it’s always been middle-of-the-road. If you’re not a fan of hot peppers though, this little corner of Thailand in Laval provides a much needed respite from the Zibos and Pacinis of the ‘burbs, especially for family outings. My hot-pepper-trained tastebuds, in shock of surviving without so much of a fight, were left yearning for a more “sadistic” address…
After trying multiple “ethnic” restaurants outside Montreal, my brain for its part burns with endless questions: why is it that foreign cuisine restaurants lose so much of their soul the moment you step away from the metropolis? Do they need to play it safe given that a spot on Laurentides Boulevard hardly makes for a trendy destination? Is the suburban clientele so wishy-washy to start with? And the killer question: When a Thaï chef sends out plates with no bird’s eye pepper to decorate the whole, does he go to bed weeping on his pillow?
Do you know any good foreign cuisine restaurants outside Montreal?
Where? How much?
Where: 1585 Laurentides Blvd., Laval, QC H7N 4Y6, (450) 933-7999
How Much: Appetizers are around $5 and entrées from $12 to $19
On the plus side: It’s a BYOW