INDOCHINE PAN-ASIAN CUISINE (175 Dundas West, at Chestnut, 416-581-8668) Despite the similarity of its handle and chic look, this stylish Thai-meets-Malay-and-points-east boîte has nothing to do with the long-running Yorkville spot. The new kid's kindred menu offers familiar takes on even more familiar fare, but a few gems shine. Complete dinners for $25 per person ($13 at lunch), including all taxes, tip and a domestic beer. Open Monday to Thursday 11 am to 10:30 pm, Friday and Saturday 11 am to 4 am, Sunday noon to 9 pm. Licensed. Delivery. Access: barrier-free. Rating: NNN
New York City has one. so have Hanoi, San Diego and Calgary. But T.O.'s the only world-class metropolis with two pan-Asian eateries named Indochine. And they're not related. For the last few weeks, lunchtime lineups have been forming at the French doors leading into Indochine, the stylish new Thai-Chinese spot in the north downtown core with a name and menu very similar to those of an uptown boîte whose name escapes me.
Ask the busy staff who rush about the pretty room decked out with art prints and cut flowers if there's a connection and you'll be told with a shrug that it's a "coincidence."
Not that the crowd's concerned. Most are happy to chow down on palatable if bland pad thai ($5.95) and tasty cashew chicken, a chili-free Chinese stir-fry of fowl, sweet peppers and toasted nuts ($4.95 with steamed rice). But further joy lies beyond the noon-hour specials.
Don't miss Cream Cheese Wontons ($4.95), an appalling-on-paper but fab collision of Philly, diced al dente shrimp and crisp wonton. Delicious, they're even better with the house chili-stoked plum sauce.
Another example of what this kitchen does best, the Indochine Platter ($8.95) starts with more than a dozen cornflake-battered calamari rings that should be soggy, doughy rubber bands but are instead crisp and golden, giving way to tender centres with each bite. Equally toothsome, a mound of mango salad (firm strips of fruit and red onion offset by pulverized peanuts, slivered scallions and a tart lime vinaigrette). Skewers of sambal-brushed shrimp served on banana leaves also impress.
I'm still undecided whether rice-paper-wrapped Pho Pia Sod cold rolls crammed with crunchy carrot, pepper, rice stick, Asian mystery meat and hard-boiled egg yolk ($3.95) fuse or confuse. Postmodern sushi, perhaps?
Until the seafood salad (Yam Talay, $6.95) appears, coriander, garlic and ginger have virtually gone MIA. But seasoning's front and centre here, mixed with a few first-rate steamed tail-on shrimp and lattice-cut squid and less-so faux crab stix and unidentified white fish.
Apart from soy sauce, Vegetarian Fried Noodle ($7.45) - green and purple cabbage, sculpted carrots, broccoli spears, snow peas and wayward bok choy over wide rice noodles - seems as spice-free as a student co-op stir-fry. Dead boring. Sour sambal adds few fireworks.
Back for lunch, the Disposal Unit and I arrive just before noon to secure a table in the carpeted 70-seat room. Made up of two storefronts with square waist-height windows punched in their dividing wall, Indochine soon bustles.
I swore I'd never eat one again, but I'd put this chicken roti ($4.95) near the top of NOW's next roti roundup. Not the usual India-via-the-Caribbean wrap, Indochine's version is a bowl of splendidly spiced boneless bird and unmushy spuds in curry cream. A pair of slighty greasy but delish roti Canai - think tortillas - act as scoops for the heavenly stuff.
The Unit makes it a third of the way through Malay Oodles (yes, Oodles, $10.45), a metallic-tasting marriage of greasier noodles, cabbage and weirdly marinated scallops, before pretending to doggy-bag the leftovers. We can also file the saccharine Sweet Hakka Chow Mein ($8.95) under Very Acquired Taste.
Synopsis: a reasonably priced, attractive room (on this stretch of Dundas the joint's practically Canoe) with a card that ranges from OMG to OK to oh dear.
But who's the Einstein who thought naming a new restaurant after an already existing one with a nearly identical menu and look was a good idea?
"We didn't know there was another Indochine until we registered the name," says first-time restaurateur Darryl Liu. For the record, his Dundas address is technically Indochine Pan-Asian Cuisine, Yorkville's is Indochine Thai & Vietnamese Cuisine. Real big difference, right?
NOW's Test Kitchen put the duelling Indochines under the culinary microscope to determine if they have more in common than their handles. The other Indochine 's (4 Collier, at Yonge, 416-922-5840, see Eating Out review, this page) recent Wallpaperesque overhaul has made the warm, modern space even more attractive to the regulars who pack the place for its $7.95 lunchtime meal deals.
The champ's pad thai ($8.99) may cost a buck and change more than the new kid's, but the former's has a more complex balance of flavours. Not overly sweet and somewhat under-powered, it's very good. The plate's slippery noodles are mixed with shrimp, chicken breast, scrambled egg and thin threads of carrot and bell pepper. Winner.
Chilies abound in Thai Green Curry Vegetables ($9.99), a large bowl of broccoli, cubed deep-fried tofu, thinly cross-cut carrot, fresh peas, sliced button mushrooms and mushy eggplant. The interloper's version, Green Curry Vegetables (Khiao Wan Pak, $7.45), comes in a rich, incendiary coconut gravy, its crunchy nappa cabbage giving this dish extra texture. Call this a draw.
Downtown makes a surprise upset with Tom Yam Goong (lemon shrimp soup, $2.45), an insanely intense half-litre of spicy broth thick with split lemongrass, more good shrimp, quartered button 'shrooms and huge whacks of ginger. It recalls hot 'n' sour soup, vinegary and scented with kaffir lime. Uptown's Vietnamese Lemon Shrimp Soup ($3.50) couldn't be more different. Pale, its slightly citrusy boullion swims with shrimp, crisp Chinese celery and cubed tomato pulp that taste like they've only just met. Menu-advertised lemongrass seems AWOL, but extra points for the cool reusable tub.
The new Indochine may be only a few weeks old, but it's already become more than a headache for the original's owner, Kevin Lee.
"Customers are already confusing our phone numbers and addresses," says a perturbed Lee. He mentions lawyers. "We've been here for 10 years in September. I don't mind them copying the cuisine, but not the name."