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Wednesday 18 May 2011

Viphalay Laos and Thai Restaurant Edmonton - Gluten Free Heaven!

Rating Service 10/10, Food 8.0/10 Overall 9.0/10
Its seldom I stumble upon a hidden gem, and when I do, I want to keep it a secret, yet at the same time, I want to tell the world.  Tell the world one today.  Despite its shady location with bars on its windows as a testament to the rough neighbourhood, this well appointed restaurant lavished in rich red, ochre and dark brown woods with gold and black accents is like stepping into a different world. Lovingly renovated by one of the staff's parents, the decor exudes a quiet elegance. Staff are super friendly, knowledgeable and are kept on their toes as this restaurant just a block south of Little Italy is bustling and busy. People suffering from Celiac disease rejoice!! Our waiter informed us that 99% of the menu is gluten free. When we usually hear those words, unpalatable dry cardboard or pasty meals comes to mind, however, Viphalay Laos and Thai Restaurant is probably the best Laos and Thai fare I've had in Edmonton, and definetely the best food disguised as gluten free... ever! Everything is served family style, so its best if you round up some friends so you can eat a larger selection of their menu.

A small selection of pop, wine, and tea are available. They're well known for their Thai tea - a deliciously strong blend of red tea (steeped in a special pressured machine), spices, cream, condensed milk served with a bit of ice resulting in an almost alarming shade of orange red drink.  There is a nice balance between the slight bitterness of the strong red tea tannins, creamy sweet condensed milk, richness from the cream and teasing hints of flavor from over 58 herbs and spices.  The custom Thai tea mix is unfortuantely not sold separately - comprised of over 58 herbs and spices, all toasted and prepared in house, it provides a yummy complexity to the beverage little seen elsewhere. A must try! And handy to cool down the palate when you're sampling some of their more spicy fare.  Less indulgent versions of the tea is also available, you can have it without the shot of cream, or with lemon leaving out both the cream and condensed milk.  Live a little and have the Thai tea in all its yummy nummy in your tummy glory.

the FOOD
Noodle Salad
Slick soft thin glass noodles, a handful of blanched chicken breast pieces, shredded cilantro, green onions, crunchy celery bits, and a couple of large blanched shrimp are tossed in an intensely spicy dressing with notes of salty fish sauce, lemon and limes.  The artfully carved carrot flowers that garnishes almost every dish is a lovely cultural touch - don't eat it though, its a garnish!  The noodle salad had more accompaniments than noodles, though this isn't a comlaint - the chicken was tender, shrimp flavorful and crisp, with all the elements tying together well with the spicy dressing.  A fiery, fresh and flavorful start to our supper.  Thankfully, the rest of the items we ordered didn't pack as much heat.

Green Chicken Curry
This unassuming bowl of mixed vegetables, blanched chicken breast strips and pale sauce packed a whallop of flavor.  The mild curry had a base of coconut milk with kafir leaves, lime leaves and cilantro at the forefront and a hint of lemongrass as well.  Though the dish was scant on chicken pieces (we could have had beef or seafood in place of the chicken), the delicious and complex sauce more than made up for it.  Bits of zuchinni, broccoli, and sweet peas rounded out the curry.  Add it to an order of fragrant coconut rice = Mmmmmm.

BBQ Beef
Redolent in a multitude of seasonings, small strips of flank steak is marinated to perfection.  One of the few un-spicy dishes on the menu, it rests on a bed of chopped romaine and topped with a generous handful of fried garlic bits.  Unfortunately, the beef was overcooked, but the flavor imparted by the marinade (chimicurri maybe?) lent it an amazing depth of flavor... even if it did resemble juicy jerky.  The serving size was perfect for sharing, though it would be a bit on the small side if you treat it as an individual dish.

Pad Thai
It just wouldn't be a Thai dinner if I didn't succumb and order a hot plate of pad thai.  This version is lighter and less greasy than most - with interesting ingredients tossed in you'll find more common in a Thai family meal than at a restaurant.  The noodles are soft and springy, tossed in a almost ketchup-y spicy pad thai sauce, and mixed in with plenty of fried tofu chunks, a handful of sweet crisp shrimp, some sauteed bean sprouts,  more of the blanched chicken breast slices, and fresh herbs.  Oh, and can't forget the liberal mountain of toasted peanut bits to top the whole thing off.  So satisfying... nom!

Fish with spicy sauce
Not the most descriptive title, but the chunks of moist basa filets are encased in a crisp seasoned light batter and cooked to perfection.  The special in house sauce bears a strong resemblance to Chinese "ging doh / gwoo low" Peking/Capital style sauce, as its a dark brown sweet plum sauce with a hit of chili's.  The fish stands well on its own, and I think I prefer it alone without the sauce.  A few julienne strips of sweet red pepper and diced green onions add a bit of color to the dish.

Traditional offerings include purple rice with mangos and icecream, steamed taro custard with cream and roti rolls.  A twist on fried bananas is their banana envelopes - banana filled pastries drizzled with maple syrup, icing sugar and cinnamon.  We picked the easiest to share item - the Roti rolls as our waiter had told us though it wasn't gluten free, it was "the heart and soul" of Thai desserts.  Soft tender roti dough is pan fried to impart a crisp yet slightly chewy exterior, and rolled up with a caramelized condensed milk syrup.  Not as thick as an Italian dulce de leche, this thickened caramelized syrup with hints of vanilla and caramel elevated the simply made roti rolls to a heavenly level.   Served with a large scoop of toasted coconut studded creamy coconut icecream, it was a wonderful end to a tasty meal.  I think next time, I would be perfectly happy just ordering the Thai tea and a serving or three of the roti rolls. Nom!

Overall, a hidden gem full of warmth, tasty food and friendly staff. Quibbles - The menu should have a little pepper symbol next to them to indicate the spicy intensity of dishes. We assumed the salad being a starter would be the mildest, with the curry likely commanding the most heat, only to have our expectations reversed.  Hopefully next time, the BBQ beef won't be overcooked, as its so lovingly marinated, its surprising the execution fell short.  Go, eat, drink and enjoy a little taste of Thai in a totally unexpected location.

Viphalay Laos and Thai Restaurant
Address10724 95 Street Northwest, Edmonton, AB
Hours Tuesday- Sunday 11am-2pm for lunch and 5pm-9pm, closed Mondays
Viphalay Laos and Thai Restaurant on Urbanspoon


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Kim Huynh said...

i am disappointed that you did not try out their drucken noodles. It's sooo good there or the papaya salad...

Kathy C. said...

Have been to this place many times - consistently good food, particularly the pad thai and pineapple and shrimp triangles. And their rice desserts are tasty.

I only have two quibbles: 1) although nice to look at, I find garnishes that I can't eat utterly useless and a waste and 2) the staff uniforms - of which there are none - t-shirt and jeans are worn. And not the nice dark pressed jeans either. It's a nice-looking place, and the staff should match. Hopefully it was different when you went.

nomnomnom said...

Kim: We'll haveta go back and try the drunken noodles, papaya salad and the banana envelopes next time. a little birdie told us we have to go back and try :)

Kathy: I liked the garnishes - pretty and it gives a nod to the fact many of the top fruit/vege garnish carvers in the world have training from Thai masters. Even though inedible, its time and skill spent on making food the center of attention. As for the staff's dress - I think it was mainly casual with dark bottoms, but to be honest, I was paying far more attention to the food. Though I'd have to agree with you - having staff wear a standard say black t-shirt and bottom would bring in a preceived level of unity and professionalism - as long as the "uniforms" aren't tacky. But in my books, the food comes first, service second (service was awesome as were the staff), decor/uniforms takes third place. I could care less if the staff all chose to wear an eye watering acid pink, I'd raise my eyebrows yes, but I'd be perfectly content as long as the food is done right, and staff comfy in whatever they happen to be wearing.

Kathy C. said...

Heheh - agree to disagree, I guess! : ) I grew up and worked in the restaurant business world so I have fairly strong opinions about it.
But I will agree with the fact that if the food is stellar than all else takes second place.

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