BAN VANIPHA (638 Dundas West, at Bellevue, 416-340-0491) Almost double its former size, this long-time Laotian and home-style Thai eatery has moved around the corner to high-profile digs just west of Chinatown. Pricier than similar spots, it delivers superior ingredients and style. Complete dinners for $30 per person ($15 at lunch), including all taxes and tip. Open Monday to Saturday for lunch 11:30 am to 3 pm, for dinner 5 to 10 pm. Closed Sunday. Unlicensed. Smoke-free. Access: one step at door, washrooms on same floor. Rating: NNN
another thai restaurant opens just about every week. Even College is about to heat up with the soon-to-come Urban Thai. But Vanipha, the Kensington Market eatery that was one of the first to offer that fiery fare, has always had something that no other spot delivers -- a subtle Laotian twist.The subterranean grotto relocated a month ago to larger and higher-profile digs a few blocks west on Dundas. Before the move, the tiny eatery could be best described as intimate. Some loved its obscurity, others found it -- if they could -- a dimly lit basement in a dodgy neighbourhood.
With the new window-surrounded room decked out in shades of emerald and gold comes a new name: Ban Vanipha, or House of Vanipha. Other changes: co-owner Vanipha Southalack now concentrates on Vanipha Lanna, her Eglinton West venue, though she still supplies the Queen Mother and the Rivoli with her exemplary spring rolls.
Her sister Oot Phonfaavah and brother-in-law Peter Thavone run the new restaurant.
Because of its greater visibility, Ban Vanipha has caught on quick. At a recent midweek lunch, I recognized CBC types, a pair of Globe hacks, as well as a contingent of scrub-wearing hospital staff from nearby Toronto Western. Business, it seems, is booming.
While most chow down on inexpensive stuff like Priw Wharn Pak ($6.75) -- fresh pineapple pieces mixed with peppers and onions in sweet 'n' sour sauce over plain rice -- and one of the better pad thai ($7.50 lunch/$9.25 dinner) in town, the Literary Device and I decide to order from the more adventurous Laotian lineup featured on the dinner menu.
We start with Nham Vientiane ($7.25), a gorgeous collision of flavour and texture -- pink bits of pickled sour pork mixed with fresh mint, coriander and cucumber on an iceberg bed topped with deep-fried coconut rice and feathery egg threads. This Rice Krispie effect continues with Mee Grob ($8.95), an addictive tangle of rice vermicelli that's been pressed through a ricer and deep-fried, then sauced with tart tamarind, garlic, ginger, shallots, lemon zest and lime juice. Both essential.
Though it's not served that way, Larb Hed ($8.50) -- minced mushroom, Thai chilies, shallots, and tofu -- would be the perfect thing to wrap lettuce leaves around. Which is how Gai Hoey Bai Toey ($8.95) arrives: grilled chicken breast bound by ribbons of pandan leaf accompanied by a spicy dip of garlic, coriander, sesame oil, soy sauce and whiskey(!). We finish our noontime nosh with Khao Nhom Fak Tong ($4.25), a delightful custardy crustless pie studded with butternut squash and topped with a sweet but unfortunately snot-green lime sauce.
Ban Vanipha's prices are higher and the portions smaller than most similarly themed noodle joints. But figure in the quality of ingredients, affable service and pleasant surroundings, and the latest Vanipha far surpasses its competition.Food & Drink