|The patio. All photos courtesy of Mai Bistro's Facebook page|
Last week I mentioned I’d start a new feature this week. Twice a month on Fridays, I’ll write about a restaurant I’ve visited (and loved! Only good reviews here). Whenever possible, I’ll share something about the restaurant or the chef.
And for the record, I’m paying for my own meal at all the restaurants I visit. I choose them because I want to visit them, and my opinions are entirely my own.
I visited Mai Bistro a couple of weeks ago with my friend Dale. The location was perfect, just steps away from our church. We sat on the tiny front patio not knowing anything about the restaurant except that it served a combination of Asian and South American food, and offered share plates, which would let us sample an array of dishes.
I loved everything we ordered. If I had to pick main course favourites, I’d go with the lamb curry spring rolls (easily the best spring rolls I’ve ever eaten) and the Vietnamese style pork tacos. The next time I visit, I’ll start my order with these two items. And my favourite overall dish was the peaches poached in port wine and served with mango ice cream. Whenever I see a menu item this simple, I know it’s going to be wonderful.
After I came home, I read a little about the chef/owner Manh Nguyen, and realized why our meal was so spectacular. A Japanese chef by training, he was the sous chef at the Intercontinental Hotel in Caracas Venezuela. He returned to Toronto as the chef at the popular Supermarket restaurant, where he was named one of the Top 10 Chefs in Toronto in 2005.
The evening we ate at Mai Bistro, Nguyen came over to talk to us, and I found him friendly and unpretentious. I later chatted with him for the purposes of this blog post, and asked about his most memorable culinary experience. He told me this story:
Five years ago, he was participating in an Iron Chef competition in Toronto, hosted by Matt Galloway, one of Toronto’s best-known morning show hosts. The judges included popular Toronto chef Susur Lee, well-known international chef Martin Yan, and the acclaimed food writer Andrew Chase. One of the dishes Nguyen prepared was a smoked trout prepared in tea. One of the judges – who shall remain nameless – took a bite of the trout and announced, “This is the best salmon I’ve ever eaten in my life!”
Nguyen the man is charming, and Nguyen the chef is unbelievably talented. Mai Bistro is one of those amazing little restaurants you happen upon by word of mouth. I tried it on the recommendation of Sarah from my favourite bookstore. Now I hope I can spread the word!
4906 Dundas Street West