This weekend I managed to get out for two meals with friends, and since I suck I didn’t bring a camera. So I’m going to lump them together and rather than an in-depth review just talk about each place.
Bangkoknoi Thai Restaurant was the first venue I went to, and since this is my fifth visit, I clearly love it. In fact, I love it so much I can hardly ever wean myself off eating the same three things off their menu: Tom Yum soup, Papaya Salad and a curry of some sort. I’m such a creature of habit, that I deviated from that menu by exactly two dishes, and even that was due to my wonderful lunch companion. So we ordered Tom Kah Gai and a noodle dish just to be different.
The Tom Yum is the epitome of Thai cooking for me – fragrant, bold, and spicy. I adore the combination of hot, sour and salty and this reddish broth with chunks of mushrooms, tomatoes, meat and lemongrass is awesome. I do wish they added more basil though – I had one tiny leaf in the soup, and basil gives an incomparable fragrance. Tom Kah Gai was also delicious, but spicier, with the richness of coconut milk to tame the acidity of Tom Yum. Which I still prefer.
The Papaya salad is not their most consistent dish. On some days it’s transcendental, with finely shredded papaya leaves, lime juice dressing, peanuts and shrimp mixed with just the right amount of dressing. Others it’s a bit too watery probably left too long premixed, with the papaya releasing it’s juices. But even when it’s not great, it’s still quite enjoyable, so I get it every time.
Having had their great, fragrant red curry on most of my visits, this time I dared to be different yet again and got a Mussamun Curry. Thick with tender chucks of beef and cubes of potatoes it was hearty and good, but if I were making it at home I’d mix some red curry sauce into it and make it sublime. But that’s just me. I’ve never had Mussamun Curry before, and I can only assume that this is not the pinnacle of it’s performance.
The noodle dish – Lard Nah – was very very good. Surprisingly so, since I expected it to be mediocre for some reason. It was all owing to the sauce – dark, sweet-salty and delicious it gently coated the noodles and the veggies with thick strips of meat. While warm it was just great, and as it cooled it lost some flavor, so if you order it, eat it while it’s hot.
I have never, ever had room for dessert after a Bangkoknoi feast, which is not saying much since I’m not the world biggest dessert fan. Don’t get me wrong, it’s good occasionally, and my sweet tooth is getting bigger the older I get, but it’s not the most important thing in the world for me. For one, it’s often too expensive. I don’t care what ingredients you use, if it’s adding ten dollars to the bill – I’ll probably skip it. For another, I can be gluttonous during dinner if the food is good, and don’t have room. And if by some miracle I do have room, well either the food was bad so why take a chance on dessert, or I’ll enjoy the virtuous feeling, thank you.
Bangkoknoi Thai Restaurant
1324 Centre Street NE
Calgary, AB T2E 2R7, Canada
My second lunch of the weekend was a takeout feast out of the deli section of Mercato. I’ve always wanted to eat at Mercato, I’ve heard good things about it, but it is quite expensive, so I haven’t taken the plunge yet. Anyone have a corporate account lying around unused? I’m your woman.
Anyhoo, first we browsed the chic but highly expensive boutique just to whet the appetite and I was again blown away by the prices. A 500 ml jar of pasta sauce was $11.00, a package of pasta was $6.95 and a large fried pastry was $4.99. A tiny jar of tapenade type spread and a jar of canned tomatoes was $14.95, and I don’t care if they’re harvested by virgins in Italy by the moonlight and canned during sunrise by silent monks – I’m not paying that much for one jar of canned tomatoes. The few things we found that are worth buying are some of the reasonably priced cheeses, a large pre-marinated chicken for $22.00 and definitely some of the deli items.
Deli items were plentiful and great looking, with a touch of exotic. From a good variety of glistening olives, sausages of all shapes and sizes, marinated grilled veggies, breaded bass fillets, deep fried risotto balls, meat balls, vegetable salads, roasted potato salads and bean salads. We chose a bocconcini salad, potato and sausage salad, roasted marinated veggies, veggie pizza, a traditional baguette, one risotto ball and the lady at the counter highly recommeded pasta salad and bean salad. We got just a few spoonful of each seeing as there were only two of us, we’re not total gluttons you know.
Hugging our loot home we spread it all out, made a pot of strong coffee and had a feast in the sunshine on the deck. The pizza was quite good – flavorful, zesty, full of veggies and a lovely sauce, with only a thin sprinkle of cheese. The baguette however, was only so – so. Stuffed with what looked like mortadella with a tiny bit of a spicy sausage it was rather bland.
The bocconcini salad was a big disappointment – the balls of cheese are bland as to be expected, so need a strong flavor to balance them out – a good shot of vinegar and salt. It had neither. Imagine a salad with bland cheese balls and whole cherry tomatoes coated in oil and you have the makings of a bland oily dish with nothing to bring out the taste of either ingredient. A judicious splash of vinegar, salt and fresh basil would have helped immensely.
I’m not sure what the lady at the counter was on, but I can tell you the next two disappointing dishes were the pasta and bean salads that she specifically highly recommended. The pasta salad had the same problem –huge pasta shells, tossed with some diced veggies, all coated in oil. Bland, no salt – the dish could have been made anywhere. I believe Sunterra serves a similar version as well as many supermarket delis. The bean salad was…. a bean salad. When I eat out, I expect each dish to be a great version of itself, good at least. But these two were the most prosaic, basic, generic variants I have ever had. If *I* can make something better at home, then you have no business selling it, in my opinion.
The two good sides were the potato and sausage salad and marinated roasted veggies. Now, I’m not saying they were anything special. Whatever you picture when you hear those names is probably exactly what we ate. Thanks to the sausage the potato salad had flavor, and thanks to the grill and salt so did the veggies. They were not transcendental by any stretch but they were wholly satisfying.
And now to the deep fried risotto ball. My friend thought it was barely so-so. If I recall, it tasted like someone took risotto, stuffed if with some pizza sauce and mozza, breaded and deep fried it. Was it bad? Not really. A fresh herb or two would have helped the pizza pop taste. Was it worth $6.95? Not in either of our books. It is not a dish either one of us was inspired to either make ourselves or order again, so although not too bad it was nothing to write home about either.
I already stated that my reviews are limited by budget and subjective as can be, so if I had to rate Mercato strictly on the deli offerings I’d give it a 3/5. However, it’s not really fair to the restaurant proper which surely deserves its chance to shine, so I will withhold judgment for now, and steer you away from the mediocre salads stated above.
2224 4 Street SW
Calgary, AB T2S 1W9, Canada