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AZ RESTO TOUR

Eating through London, Ontario's restaurants. Alphabetically.

#44 MAI’S CAFE AND BISTRO

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CUISINE: Thai ADDRESS: 142 Wortley Road DATE: August 1, 2014

I have been to my Grandparents’ cottage on Sugar Lake in the Muskokas every summer of my life. Since I can remember, my life at the cottage has consisted of the following “activities”*:

  • reading
  • eating
  • sunning
  • sighing contentedly
  • winning board games
  • swimming (to the loon and back)
  • looking at my dogs

*is there a word for activities that all involve SITTING? Let me know in the comments.

But every once and a while, I get it into my head to stray from that pattern. That is a mistake. One should only sit at the cottage, clearly. To do otherwise has not worked out well for me:

WHY YOU SHOULD STICK TO YOUR STRENGTHS

  1. 1988: Tried to go and find a “ghost town” nearby. Couldn’t handle the twisty roads cut into the Canadian Shield. Vomited on my tie-dyed shirt and my uncle’s rental car. Showered in my clothes.
  2. 2006: Tried to row the boat over to my friends. Not far, only from the dock at one edge of our property to where they were sitting in the gazebo. Endured a 1-hour-30-minute rowing lesson from my grandfather, a former phys. ed teacher. It involved the following truism: “I have never seen such a smart person with so little coordination.”
  3. 2009: Goaded into speaking to my cottage neighbours by my friend Steve, who was horrified that I had never spoken to them. I wandered next door, stood awkwardly near them for a moment, and blurted out “I’M ED’S GRANDDAUGHTER!” before fleeing in shame.

While in general, I am up-for-anything, I think that a few restaurants in London could follow my cottage rules of sticking to their strengths.

We ventured to Mai’s (or what we believe to be Mai’s— the sign only reads “Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner”) on a warm summer night. Our dining companions were local theatre luminaries Duane and Kristina, their son—and my student— Henry, and his girlfriend Ashley. When I started taking the compulsory diner photos, we quickly realized the seating arrangements were a mistake.

Ashley and Duane:

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KRISTINA: Should we move, Henry?

HENRY: It’s ok, mom.

KRISTINA: You took all that time to coordinate shirts with Ashley, and now you’re not even sitting together!

MEGAN: Well, it’s a REALLY nice picture of Ashley and Duane.

DUANE: Profile pic!

Maybe he didn’t plan on coordinating with his mom, but it is a cute picture of Kristina and Hen.

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My long-suffering companion, Ian, wearing a chambray and a patterned tank as the BLOG SHIRT DU JOUR:

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And I, as per usual, forgot to take a picture of myself at the restaurant. Here’s one of me at home when I was uploading the pictures.

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I FORGET TINGSSSSS.

(like brushing my hair, apparently)

I had a lovely conversation with the woman who took my reservations, culminating in a “Ok, see you then, HONNEEYYY!” which made me excited for the cuteness of Mai’s experience. And the server was quick and friendly. 

Mai’s is tiny (only about 7 tables), and the decor is not HORRIBLE:

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The dark wood chairs and wainscotting are a nice touch, as is the tile floor.

And maybe it’s because this is blog #44, meaning I have been to 44 independent restaurants in the last year, but there are decorating tropes I am getting sick of seeing:

  1. Tiny pictures, hung too high on the wall.
  2. TVs! Especially those playing random music videos. Or game shows.
  3. Crappy light fixtures.

Unfortunately, Mai’s has all three:


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Art isn’t easy….

Kristina and Duane have been long-time readers of the blog (in my initial restaurant list, it was Kristina that pointed out to me it was “DOMO SUSHI”, not “DOOM SUSHI”), and I was excited that they FINALLY got to join us. But Kristina was actually surprised that Henry wanted to come. Not because dining with his teacher is that horrible. 

But because Henry hates Thai food.

This developed during his time at the National Ballet School, where the “pad thai” served in the cafeteria became a mushy catch-all for the leftover proteins of the previous week.

(Shudder)

I remember at UWindsor, it wasn’t the Pad Thai that had a week’s worth of leftovers in it. It was the burritos.

MEGAN: No burrito should have CARROTS in it. (chewing thoughtfully) Or eggplant.

NOTE: Henry thinks that maybe he should start his own food blog. It was be called “THE B to B RESTO TOUR”. The “B” is for BURRITOS. If you think you know where the best burrito in London is, dear God, let the kid know.

So, Henry was happy to see that Mai’s had a whole section of “Canadian” (well, not really—it wasn’t Nanaimo bars or anything—but it was NORMAL) dishes. He and Ashley decided on fettucine Alfredo and fish and chips, respectively, while the rest of us ordered from the Thai menu.

Ian’s always excited when people order burgers and stuff at an ethnic restaurant; and after Pam’s discovery of the amazing fries at #43 LOS COMALES, I guess it’s worth trying. 

But to me, it always reminds me of taking my sheltered little Dorchester students to Stratford, a culinary mecca in Southwestern Ontario. They inevitably dined at TIM HORTON’S, also known as THE ONLY RESTAURANT in Dorchester.

But my palette has continued to develop as I got older, and I’m sure his will, too. 

Our appetizers arrived shortly, and…well…

Ok, so the presentation is kind of HORRIFIC:

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I am usually a fan of mismatched dishes in restaurant: Blackfriars Bistro has adorable teacups, and Monforte-on-Wellington in Stratford’s dishes really go with the shabby chic aesthetic, but these fish bowls are just NOT. A. THING. 

They kind of make all the food look like it’s from the eighties.

That being said, this green papaya salad was pretty tasty. Ian really liked the bright vinaigrette, which was more citrusy than its rice wine vinegar counterpart at Tamarine.

And you can see the vinaigrette, above. It’s collecting in the fish’s bowels.

The cut on the papaya was a bit long and thin, making this salad DROOPIER than I might have wanted it. Definitely wetter. And the tomatoes, dwarfing the rest of the salad ingredients with their largesse, were, as Ian said, “unnecessary”. 

And not just because we don’t like tomatoes.

A NOTE ON TOMATOES: I like ALL tomato-based things. Salsa, ketchup, chill: these are my TASTES. But the slimy outside and spongy inside of an ACTUAL tomato continues to elude my palette. I doggedly try to like them: adding them to every hamburger I eat. And then dutifully pulling them out the back of the burger after one bite.

I’m onto cherry tomatoes in salads and such. I’m trying my best to be a grown-up, tomato-wise.

(Did you like that turn of phrase, Mom? My mom loves it when people stick “-wise” on the ends of words that it has no business being in cahoots with.)

Kristina and Duane got the shrimp to start:

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I can’t blame bad plating for the relative blurriness of the picture. I can blame it for the syndrome known as RANDOM ICEBERG LETTUCE (R.I.L., in the biz).

Kristina thought the shrimp was a good size, but noted there was WAY too much batter on it. Duane thought the sauce was sweet and spicy, if a little thin. They thought it was FINE.

Henry and Ashley went with the chicken satays:

imagePictured above: grilled chicken, coloured water, and RIL.

With a chicken satay, you would expect a classic Thai peanut sauce; the Tasting Room has a delicious one on their tapas menu.

Mai’s went with flavourless water sauce, which was a bold choice.

HENRY: It’s like, they had a sauce? But then they watered it down to save money.

A NOTE ON NOTES: People who have been a guest on the AZ RESTO TOUR often comment on how I remember everything people said and ate at the dinner, but the reality is, I take notes. So, when you’re out for dinner with me, I may SEEM like a rude during-dinner texter, and believe me, I am that, too, but I’m also writing down your pithy comments and making them funnier and better. 

When I started the blog, my plan was to eat the dinners on FRIDAYS (in fact, the blog was first called DINNER ON FRIDAYS), and write the reviews on Saturdays.

But my life, and the lives of those who want eat dinner with Ian and I from time-to-time, are FULL. We did end up eating this meal on a Friday, but here I am writing the review on a Wednesday—three weeks later. Thank god for notes.

That being said, some of my notes get auto-corrected beyond repair.

HENRY: good really lousy, which is nice.

Sooooo….

Henry felt… conflicted about the chicken, maybe?

I actually remember that he thought it was well-cooked, but lacking flavour. Something was nice. Sooooo…

Sorry, Hen-Hen. I failed you.

The entrees were out shortly, and if you thought we were conflicted about the appetizers—

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These were my drunken noodles: spicy, full of flavour, perfectly-cooked veggies and did I mention, SPICY? My favourite thing?

MEGAN: This spice is NOT. JOKING. AROUND.

My meal was delicious. I immediately started fantasizing about picking up these drunken noodles on the way home from school, when Ian is away on business.

When Ian is not home to cook, I usually have to forage in the woods for my food, so this would be a nice alternative.

But compare this, if you will to Ashley’s mess of a meal:

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Ashley’s plate basically looked the same as this when she had finished eating. While she noted that she DOES have “a small stomach”, she also said that the fish was “soggy, and DAMP on the inside” and that the fries were “pretty plain”.

And let’s get a close-up on that house tartar sauce:

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Again, their presentation is exquisite.

Duane was very happy with his cashew chicken:

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He thought it was cooked well, the honey flavour was lovely and the spice was excellent, with lots of cashews.

But then there was Henry’s dish:

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MEGAN: How’s your non-Thai food at the Thai restaurant, Henry?

HENRY: (swallowing) Well. There is A LOT of sauce. I would say, an AGGRESIVE amount of watery sauce.

But to be fair, Henry doesn’t believe that any restaurant could make his favourite Alfredo sauce. Because his mom has already perfected it.

HENRY’S HIERARCHY OF ALFREDOS (Patent-pending)

  • GLUE—a dry, mushy sauce. For example, Crabby Joe’s Alfredo sauce.
  • PERFECT—his mom’s sauce
  • WATER—this sauce. “The flavour is…interesting. It’s almost like the classic Alfredo got too close to the Asian food.”

Speaking of the perfect Alfredo-maker, Henry’s mom Kristina loved her mango chicken:

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KRISTINA: The mango is sweet, firm and fresh. The veggies were cooked well—toothsome! And it’s got that sneaks-up-on-you heat, which is nice.

Ian ordered the curry, which upon arrival looked like it had suffered the same watery fate of most of the other sauces.

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But the sauce was actually FULL OF FLAVOUR, and very spicy. This dish is akin to Ben Thanh’s GREEN CURRY, which used to be one of our favourites. Ian did have one complaint.

IAN: Too. Many. Carrots.

Mai’s seems to be contradictory in general: the hospitality is lovely, the atmosphere is generic. Most of the Thai entrees were excellent, but the appetizers were just ok. And their attempts at more “Canadian” food were…not quite there.

Wortley touts itself to be a “village inside London”. And this restaurant kind of fits the bill of a village restaurant. Small, badly decorated, but with lovely staff and some gems on the menu. After I left teaching at LDSS, Dorchester got a Chinese restaurant that people liked. And right now, Mai’s is kind of at that same level.

I would say that Mai’s is one of those places that needs to stick to the stuff they’re good at.

3.5/ 5 stars

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