THE ONE THAI & ASIAN CUISINE (372 Yonge, at Gerrard, 416-597-0222) Complete meals for $30 per person ($20 at lunch), including all taxes, tip and a $5.50 Tsingtao. Average main $9. Open Monday to Thursday 11 am to 11 pm, Friday and Saturday 11 am to midnight and Sunday noon to 11 pm. Licensed. Delivery. Access: barrier-free, washrooms in basement. Rating: NN
The ever-swelling number of Spring Rolls, Green Mangoes and Gingers 1 and 2 lining the Pride Parade route proves that the downtown crowd likes its grub the same way it digs its drag queens - cheap and hot. The latest girl to take the Yonge strip's spotlight goes by the rather cumbersome handle of the One Thai & Asian Cuisine. From the street, she's not very pretty. Now painted a plain pale yellow, the ugly brick storefront was once Colosseum, an Italian trat where only exceptionally lost tourists ever ventured.
One's owner, Tanya Suphakasem, has done her homework. She's nailed the derivative yet hugely popular modernist decor shared by the Rolls, Mangoes and Gingers as well as those of Saigon Sister, Asian Legend, Lalot, Lemongrass, Riz, Thai Chili, Natchos Thai Thai To Go, both Indochines and all them Zyngs. You know the look - moulded plywood stacking chairs, stark bare tables, a few halogen spots tastefully highlighting sconces of flowers against off-white walls.
Since the Literary Device and I arrive shortly before noon, we have the place to ourselves. Coming into such a gorgeous space after subjecting ourselves to one of the more dismal stretches of Hogtown's main drag creates quite a contrast. Perched on a narrow vinyl banquette that's more attractive than comfortable, we note that the One's predominantly Thai lineup also wanders into Vietnamese and Japanese territory.
As the Burt Bacharach box set gently serenades the empty room over the CD system, the subway below rumbles the room every five minutes. How very NYC.
We're off to a good start with complimentary shrimp chips. Not the prefab styrofoam puffs usually proffered in joints like this, they're thick and assertively flavoured.
As we sip milky Thai-style iced coffee ($2.25), the One fills up with a brisk lunchtime trade. But because of all of the hard surfaces and the clatter of plates and cutlery, it soon becomes very noisy. Then the subway rocks the house. Literally.
Next up, a pair of loosely wrapped spring rolls ($2.75) burst with rice vermicelli, carrot thread and thin strips of dense tofu and get coupled with a meek if serviceable peanut sauce. A sweet, syrupy chili-flecked sauce accompanies a tasty trio of tail-on shrimp rolls ($3.50) wrapped in deep-fried rice paper. We polish off a plate of lightly battered nuggets of scored calamari ($8.95) - a deep-fried dish found in virtually every sports bar in town - before digging into the house shrimp salad ($7.95).
Dressed in a bitter vinaigrette, this starter offers a sad half-dozen or so bluish-hued shrimp that someone has forgotten to de-vein scattered over a pile of unripe tomato and pineapple we assume was once fresh but has now reached its sell-by date. It's not finished.
The One offers its menu in five grades of heat ranging from mild to super. We've ordered everything at full strength and, still having to ask for more firepower, are disappointed when a small saucer of Srirachi - a condiment common to most contemporary kitchens - is all that's offered.
A bigger letdown, our main - Seafood Sandpot ($12.95) - finds a clay casserole of cellophane noodles strewn strictly with shrimp and a lot of onion. Forget the fire - if there's garlic or ginger in there, it's microscopic.
Seeing as we've just had a scoop of coconut-scented sticky rice as a side ($2), we're not about to plop for coconut sticky rice with seasonal fruit for dessert. We try to order the One's fried honey bananas (both $4.95), but there seems to be some confusion about its availability, one server insisting they're all out, another that there's plenty.
The Device remarks that it's not exactly brain surgery, so why not surprise us? Oh that they hadn't! Heavily shrouded in thick batter, the fritters have the consistency of fish sticks.
Back a few days later for another noontime nosh, I'm here to test the One's daily pad-thai-and-soup combo ($7.50). Again, spicing is minimal, the noodle dish's strongest flavour coming from scrambled egg, lemony chicken tenders, a few de-veined shrimp (hooray!) and the odd Thai basil leaf or two. The heat intensity - once more, specified super - doesn't so much burn as pleasantly tingle. The accompanying Chinese-style hot 'n' sour soup sees a kitchen sink of veggies - scallop-edged carrot, chopped broccoli and cauliflower and button 'shrooms - coupled with strands of enoki and a whack of smooth tofu in a veggie broth that's neither incendiary or tart.
In the mission statement that appears on her Web site (www. theonethai. com), Suphakasem claims that she fills a niche in the restaurant industry to provide authentic Thai cuisine.
When I ask what's wrong with the hundreds of other Thai eateries in Toronto, she replies that they modify the ingredients, singling out their use of ketchup in pad thai. Regular readers of this column know that we've chronicled enough bad Thai to know the real thing. Obviously, the gang at the One haven't heard of the acclaimed local Thai institutions pioneered 25 years ago by Young Thailand's Wandee Young , the Vaniphas' Vanipha Southalack and Jean's Fine Foods' Jean Seow .
Or maybe there's a huge, unsatisfied audience clamouring for wimpy Thai food.
Thai taste test
The One can discover T.O.'s Thai talent when it joins Southalack and Young - as well as representatives from Real Thailand , Thai Bangkok and Thai Thani - Sunday, July 18, from 10 am to 8 pm at Nathan Phillips Square for the inaugural Taste of Thailand fest. For more information on this day of food, dance and kick-boxing, check out www.thaitors.com.