KIM ASIAN CUISINE (6 St. Andrew, at Spadina, 416-977-9922) Complete meals for $20 per person, including all taxes, tip and a $3.50 Tsingtao beer. Average dish $6. Open daily 10 am to 10 pm. Licensed (beer only). Access: seven steps at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNNN
Situated just a few doors west of the popular Pho Hung, this Viet-Thai restaurant could easily survive on its neighbour's overflow. Yet Kim's is a destination in its own right and deserves to thrive as such. Open since February, it looks and feels a cut above, with spotless ceramic tiles, a few subtle bamboo accents, softly playing Asian muzak and cozy private banquettes lit by oval lanterns. A $3.50 Tsingtao deepens the good first impression.
We ask about the house special advertised outside: fish in seven dishes for two persons ($28.95). Among my guest's gastro sensitivities is a shellfish aversion, and we're promised only nice white fillets. I worry about fish overload with seven dishes, but having just admired the happy Cirque du Poulet mural on St. Andrew's Poultry across the street, we chance it.
Sweet and sour fish soup arrives first and sets the standard. A delicate broth is clearly finished off at the last minute with large pieces of mild, flaky fish, fresh tomatoes, pineapple chunks, celery, chives and bean sprouts. It's a joy as is, but a spoonful of red chili sauce turns seconds into a delicious hot-and-sour.
Next comes the mango fish salad, a mound of shredded young fruit topped with red and green bell peppers, cashews and red onion sprinkled with tiny dried whole fish, the crunchy equivalent of bacon bits.
It's a wonderful variant of the Thai classic and works well as a palate cleanser between other spicier dishes. Both hot and cold spring rolls are well done, the cold bursting with Thai basil, barbecued fish and more mango.
Battered, deep-fried baby fish is well served by a side of fried onions, sweet peppers and slightly blackened chilies. Six large round rice chips come topped with a square of rice noodle, lightly fried pieces of fish, red roe for some colour and chopped peanuts. By the time the seventh dish arrives we're sated, but tuck into the Thai-style red curry with coconut milk, snap peas and more large bits of fish, served with plain vermicelli on the side.
A delightful experience in all respects, and highly recommended.