This story appears in the May edition of Ottawa Magazine. Click here to order the back issue or an online edition.
Red Chili Garden * 1/2
There are no surprises at Red Chili Garden, where the menu lists a hit parade of favourite Thai and Vietnamese dishes — satay; tom yum soup; green papaya salad and curries of the yellow, red, and green variety; as well, of course, as pad thai, rice paper wraps, and other noodle and rice mixes. But it’s hit or miss in terms of what works and what doesn’t. The rice paper wraps are just so-so, missing basil, and the peanut sauce is sweeter than it needs to be. Sweet, also, are the curries. While coconut milk offers a lovely complement of sweet to spice, the spice is missing in these curries and the sweetness is overpowering. The tom yum soup, though, is definitely a hit: a lovely big bowlful of veg and shrimp, broth redolent of lemon grass, and just the right amount of chili oil floating on the surface. And the Mummy shrimp starters are fun — four fat fellows wrapped in a tangle of skinny egg noodles, deep-fried and presenting a bit like a delicious, crunchy skein of yarn. But the papaya salad has been prepared long before it makes its way to the table, arriving sans crunch and sans fresh herbs. Phad khing, a ginger-based stir-fry, is a tasty dish, as is the bun, topped with succulent bits of marinated grilled pork and crispy spring rolls. And the all-important pad thai has been prepared with a delicate hand — a satisfying, but not heavy, plate with lots of egg and shrimp. It takes some experimenting to discover what the kitchen does best, a game worth playing if Red Chili Garden is in your neighbourhood. Accessible. Mains $9.95-$14.95. Open daily for dinner and Monday to Saturday for lunch. 178 McArthur Ave., 613-695-0868.