Montri: The King of Thai Returns

This week I spent some time with Montri Rattanaraj. Not only is he one of the most charming people, he’s one of those few I consider a Vancouver ‘original.’ Montri didn’t just ride the wave of Thai cuisine in the 1980s, he was a key player in bringing it into the mainstream.

Also, as far as I can recall—his was the first Asian room to really get serious about wine. And the first to employ a full time sommelier. In fact much of Montri’s appeal lay in the fact that, not only was his food and hospitality superb, but you could also get a decent bottle, well matched and properly poured into decent stemware. That in itself was a rarity at the time. And it’s a lesson from which more than a few Asian rooms could still learn today.

Montri's Pad Thai

Montri’s Pad Thai

One particularly memorable occasion was a dinner with the Austrian and Thai consuls. We were served Montri’s Pad Thai with some pretty serious late harvest Gruner Veltliner. In one of those ‘Aha’ moments, I watched as the Thai consul loaded his plate with spoonful after spoonful of chilis, thinking it would surely destroy the wine. I decided to see for myself and took a pretty laden spoonful for myself. And I was amazed, as the wine truly blossomed with the heat …

A strong team: l-r-Jonathan Lai, sommelier; Krisana Onsamer, chef; and Montri Rattanaraj

A strong team: l-r-Jonathan Lai, sommelier; Krisana Onsamer, chef; and Montri Rattanaraj

No surprise, then, that the reincarnated Montri’s (Thai Cuisine by Montri) also boasts a full time sommelier, in the person of CAPS certified Jonathan Lai. He’s equally charming, polished and very wine savvy. And his opening wine list will be a key ingredient in the new Montri’s’ success. Why? Simple: the selection makes sense for the food on offer, with a range of truly affordable drops, along with a few special bottles. There’s a good range of aromatics here, from good BC Gewurz (Tinhorn) and Ehrenfesler (Summerhill), Joie Noble Blend (and Tantalus Riesling, of course!) to excellent Old World drops such as Gobelsburg mineral-y Gruner and killer, honey topped Zind-Humbrecht Muscat.

Thai Cuisine by Montri satay and delicious stuffed chicken wings

Thai Cuisine by Montri satay and delicious stuffed chicken wings

Montri has moved into the West Broadway space occupied until recently by Salt Tasting Room. He’s reconfigured it to offer that calming, understated personality for which he’s renowned. But behind the scenes it’s all business. And the kitchen, under chef Krisana Onsamer is already firing on all cylinders—aided by a wicked, high heat, wok burner equipped stove that Montri put in when the first range wasn’t hot enough. It’s a rocket!

Superb Morning Glory or Pak Boung, a truly tasty assortment of wok cooked, crunchy greens

Superb Morning Glory or Pak Boung, a truly tasty assortment of wok cooked, crunchy greens

First tastes, as I expected, all impressed. Montri always has been fanatical about his ingredients. He shops daily for fresh produce and it shows. The spicing is measured and carefully balanced, as it always was, and you can crank up the heat as you desire, or not.

In case you’re still wondering, I’m thrilled he’s back.

(Thai Cuisine by Montri, 2585 West Broadway, 604-221-9599.)

That’s all for now …

Read more about Montri in the Vancouver Courier

Montri and stove

Montri shows off the ‘rocket’

Thai Cuisine By Montri on Urbanspoon