GAIL'S RIVER CAFe (2789B Danforth, at Dawes, 416-913-2241) Complete meals for $18, including all taxes, tip and a pop. Average main $8. Open daily 10 am to 10 pm. Unlicensed. Access: one step at door, small bathrooms on same level. Rating: NN Rating: NN
All food reviewers worth their fleur de sel dream of the day when they'll go to some unknown joint and find brilliant cooking that'll become the talk of the town. Well, Gail's ain't it. I really wish it were, because Gail is one very sweet, hard-working restaurateur, but her Thai food is pretty ordinary.
Spring rolls ($4.35) are hindered by a less than light wrapper and overly sweet dipping sauce. The Thai hot and sour soup ($4.95), with tofu, egg, bamboo shoots, carrots and mushrooms, is a clear bowl of fresh ingredients - clear because it's unclouded by flavourings in the watery stock.
The Cantonese-like shrimp pad mamoung ($9.20) picks things up with some flavoursome heat and healthy chunks of fried mango.
The vegetarian pad bai ho ra pa ($6.99) may sound like a varsity cheer, but it actually means stir-fried basil leaves. The problem is, there's no basil, leaving a bland stir-fry of vegetables. Gail notices that the plate isn't getting much attention and apologizes about the missing basil, which isn't always available in the neighbourhood.
The papaya salad ($4.95) gets back on track with a bit of sugar/salt bounce. And the green curry beef ($8.65) is a voluminous if undramatic bowl of coconut-milk-dominated beef and veg.
Let's put this all in perspective. The prices are low and the food's not a writeoff. The $5.48 special of green curry, salad and rice is a good, freshly prepared dinner for about the price of a Happy Meal.
In true Toronto hybrid fashion, Gail also does all-day breakfasts, a pretty good-looking home burger and specialty pancakes.
How can you not like a restaurant that has the words "Happy Time" cut out of giftwrap pasted to the wall?