newsdog Facebook

Dining Out: Nana Thai Cuisine’s chef adds lesser-known but vibrant dishes from her homeland to her menu

Delhi News-Record 2019-06-12 21:30:05

Nana Thai Cuisine
121 Preston St., 613-421-1777, nanacuisine.ca
Open: Monday to Saturday 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 to 9 p.m., closed Sunday
Prices: shareable dishes $12.95 to $16.75
Access: steps to front door

In Thailand, a dish called boat noodles flourishes in the restaurants of several central cities, although it originated in Bangkok in the early 1940s, when, as per its name, it was first served from boats along the capital’s canals.

Somehow, during my one visit to Bangkok many years ago, I missed out on boat noodles. I wound up waiting until this spring to try the dish — which in fact is a hearty bowl of soup — when, as far as I can tell, Nana Thai Cuisine introduced Ottawa foodies to boat noodles.

The Preston Street eatery, a pretty place that seats about 26 in its two small dining areas, offers beef and pork versions of its bowls of boat noodles, which are reminiscent of pho. My boat noodles with beef struck me as clean and refined, with a broth that was beefy, salty and tinged with cinnamon, and which left a pleasant aftertaste of heat and pepper. Tender rare beef, squishy beef balls and slices of fish cake sat on a mound of rice noodles with garnishes such as fried shallots, been sprouts and green onions adding pops of flavour. In all, the soup felt well assembled and made with pride.

Boat noodles with beef at Nana Thai Cuisine, Postmedia

I can sing similar praises for the food that I subsequently sampled at Nana Thai, which takes its name from its owner-chef, Rattana “Nana” Thog-In. She and her family came to Canada in 1997, and she cooked in the kitchens of Ottawa’s Thai restaurants for the last two decades before opening Nana Thai last fall.

Boat noodles are not the only dish that Thog-In cooks that distinguishes her eatery from its peers in Ottawa. As the restaurant’s website notes, Thog-In is from Isaan, Thailand’s northeastern region, which has its own distinctive cuisine, with many dishes powered by dried red chilies and the pungency of fermented fish. While Nana Thai’s menu consists mostly of the familiar Bangkok-based staples that typify Thai menus in North America, Thog-In does cook some lesser-seen dishes from her region, and even takes special requests for them if asked a few days in advance.

After my lunch of boat noodles, I returned with a buddy to try more mid-day specials at Nana Thai. A savoury pork stir-fry stood out thanks to its combination of ground pork with pork belly chunks that were crisply fried yet tender inside, and everything was bolstered by a sauce that was salty yet complex. Pad Thai here was fine — a mix of sweet and tangy and blessed with textured noodles — although I confess I’m generally less knocked out these days by restaurant pad Thai.

Pork stir-fry at Nana Thai Cuisine Postmedia

Tofu pad Thai at Nana Thai Cuisine Postmedia

My dinner visits to Nana Thai afforded my most satisfying experiences with its food and, indeed, Thog-In’s hospitality. Along with her husband, Thog-In works front of house as well as cooks, and she’s a friendly, attentive presence, keen for feedback about her food. Eating at Nana Thai really feels like dining in someone’s home, but with more brisk service.

Of the more usual dishes at dinner, tom kha gai, the beloved coconut soup with chicken, was exceptionally fresh and lively, hitting all of the right flavour notes and graced with just-cooked chicken.

Tom Kha Gai soup at Nana Thai Cuisine Postmedia

Panang curry with chicken pleased with good concentrated flavour and richness, and we would have tried the less-common version of the dish with crispy chicken if my dining companion had been more in the mood for a deep-fried component. A second serving of pad Thai was no better or worse than the noodles I had tried at lunch.

Panang chicken curry at Nana Thai Cuisine Postmedia

Shrimp pad thai at Nana Thai Cuisine Postmedia

Laab, the Thai dish of assertively dressed and seasoned chopped meat, hails from Thog-In’s home region and Nana Thai’s pork laab can pack an extra spicy kick if requested. In addition to ground pork, our laab contained small chewy strips of boiled pork skin, which added not only textural variety but also credibility to the restaurant’s assertions of culinary authenticity.

pork laap at Nana Thai Cuisine Postmedia

This week, we preceded our dinner with a call several days in advance, requesting gai yang — a whole barbecued chicken cooked in the Isaan style. The intensely savoury bird, served with a dark, earthy, intriguing, salty-herbal sauce was just one highlight of the meal.

Gai Yang (whole chicken) at Nana Thai Cuisine, pic by Peter Hum Postmedia

With the off-menu chicken, we had som tum (papaya salad) — but with a difference. Nana Thai offers Thai-style som tum and Lao-style som tum (Laos borders Thog-In’s home region). Thog-In suggested we order the Lao version to go with her barbecued chicken and we found that the Lao dish was more punchy and pungent than its sweet-sour Thai counterpart, due to the presence of salty preserved fish.

Som Tum Lao (Lao-style papaya salad) at Nana Thai Cuisine Postmedia

For me, the night’s most memorable dish was another rare-in-Ottawa item, pla meung manao — a steamed whole tilapia, opened like a book and dressed with a thrilling mix of chilies, garlic and lime. We requested “medium” spice and the dish proved to be potent enough to set mouths alight and brows sweating. And yet, the just-cooked fish remained delectable and even mildly flavoured if the chilies were scraped away. Also, the dish’s bright savoury broth was another appealing way to flavour the fish.

Plaa Neung Manao (steamed tilapia with lime and chilies) at Nana Thai Cuisine Postmedia

We mitigated the fiery fish dish with pineapple shrimp fried rice.

Shrimp pineapple rice at Nana Thai Cuisine Postmedia

The dessert choices at Nana Thai are scant, but Thog-In treated us to slices of mango, which did the trick nicely.

In the last decade or more, I’ve read with envy about the rise to the point of trendiness of northeastern Thai cuisine in New York City. As a result, I’m especially glad that in addition to its crowd-pleasers, Nana Thai can make some Isaan dishes available as well.

I’m told that given a week’s notice, the kitchen can make the Isaan sour sausages known as sai krok. Given the pleasures that Nana Thai has so far delivered, sai krok is on my wish list too.

phum@postmedia.com
twitter.com/peterhum
Peter Hum’s restaurant reviews