Right up there with tomato sauce, chicken breast and pickled beets, "moulded plywood" has to be one of the most common word combos to appear in this column every week. Moulded plywood chairs. Moulded plywood tables. Moulded plywood banquettes. Moulded plywood light fixture/sculptural element/avant-garde coat rack/modular DJ booth. Don't blame Charles and Ray Eames, the couple who pioneered affordable mid-century furniture made from bent pieces of pale laminated wood, if every new restaurant looks exactly the same.
All traces of the former saloon's late-40s design (find the restored decor around the cornerat the once-attached Paddock, 178 Bathurst) have been erased and replaced at Bokchoy with the anonymous modern look: tall-backed burgundy velour banquettes, stainless steel bar and, yes, moulded plywood chairs. Queen West. On the CD player Nelly wonders if it's Hot In Herre.
It most certainly ain't, dawg. Though I specify spicy, wimpy results light no fires. Curry Battered Soft Shell Crab ($9.95) seems virtually curry-free and batterless, as crunchy as deep-fried cricket and completely lacking onion, garlic, coriander or chili.
Going by the overly saccharine evidence I sample at Bokchoy, sugar appears to be the only spice in this kitchen's cabinet. It overpowers very breaded Island Chicken ($10.95), commercial-tasting nuggets combined with a randomly rotating roster of veggies - cauliflower and broccoli florets, snow peas, bell peppers, carrot and bok choy - that show up with every dish, only slightly altered by sauce.
Mushy avocado is anathema to Asian cooking, so its inclusion in an insipid vegetarian stir-fry ($9.95) in a tenuous peanut-coconut cream mystifies.
I can only imagine what spinach salad "flavoured by a pomegranate vinaigrette and oven-dried tomato chèvre" entails, because after two attempts to order it it remains unavailable. I picture roasted pumpkin soup (both $6.95) as a velvety coconut-laced purée rich with cream and dashed with cumin, perhaps. In my dreams. Instead, it's cubed squash awash in a flavour-free clear broth, the menu-touted lime cream a no-show.
I'm really psyched for tequila-marinated rack of lamb ($17.95) but am disappointed by four scrawny chops as booze-soaked as a Temperance League teetotaler would have it. Sided with perfectly acceptable lumpy spuds and the kitchen's vegetable hodgepodge, they're better suited to a Caribbean hotel dining room rather than a pseudo-Thai resto.
Or so I think until I dunk one into what the menu calls sour curry reduction. Sorry, Chef, but I know Mados's hot sauce when I see it. Sorta sad when the best thing in the house is a store-bought condiment.
One other bonus: Bokchoy's very personable daytime server can actually answer a question like, "When is the restaurant open?" with more than, "I don't know, I only work here Thursday." Attention, savvy restaurateurs: give this gal a better job!
BOKCHOY (659 Queen West, at Bathurst, 416-866-8425) Take over-priced, barely spiced, below-average pan-Asian grub and present it in an anonymous space that has bombed more times than Jim Carrey's career. Even friendly service can't save this just-launched sinking ship. Complete meals for $30 per person ($20 at lunch), including all taxes, tip and a domestic beer. Open Monday to Wednesday 11:30 am to midnight, Thursday to Saturday 11:30 am to 1 am, Sunday 4 pm to midnight. Licensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms on same floor. Rating: N