Bedford's Thai Ivory Cuisine doesn't overly challenge its suburban clientele, and that's probably a good thing, says Melissa Buote.
"It tastes like when you were a kid and you would put ketchup on your Kraft Dinner," Rachelle says as we poke sadly at our little piles of pad thai. Matt, a stir-fry apologist, shrugs and scoops up a forkful of noodles. He stops, only to say "I never put ketchup on my Kraft Dinner."
This is our conversation halfway through our meal at Thai Ivory Cuisine, the latest restaurant to crop up by the Stardust Motel in Bedford. It's a fine space, the same sort of upscale casual you find at Thai restaurants on the peninsula. There are lots of gilded embellishments scattered throughout the room; two rows of Barbie "Dolls of the World" flank the entryway, tiny plastic hostesses amidst other baubles and bric-a-brac. The restaurant is completely empty when we walk in, save for a server behind the bar. (And the Barbies.)
The pad thai is part of a meal-for-three combination ($44.50)---it's quite a bargain, with mango salad, three spring rolls, two entrees and the unfortunate noodles. After some confusion about which entrees listed on the sprawling menu could be included--- apparently an eggplant dish doesn't fall under the purview of "vegetarian"---ours are basil chicken and pineapple curry with pork.
The appetizers are a stark contrast to the stir-fry---almost unimpeachably good. The spring rolls are tight and crisp and very good indeed, with a sweet duck sauce. The salad is bright and fresh, sharp pops of cilantro and red onion mix deftly with the sweet slices of perfectly ripe mango, carrot, green onions and peanuts.
The only misstep is the addition of iceberg lettuce which adds another mild, cool layer to the salad, when what it could really use is a bit more chili heat.
While our water glasses never stay empty for long, we do wait a little while for our entrees and, when they are finally delivered, it is in a bizarre fit of stutters and halts. Our basil chicken and pad thai arrive three or four minutes before the curry, which arrives one or two finger-drumming minutes before two saucers with domed servings of rice and two additional side plates we're given for serving the food.
Nothing really adds up to service for three, so we divvy up the rice and plates to make do.
The ketchuppy pad thai is the only real blight on the meal. Flatly sweet, I find it inedible. Matt alone enjoys it enough to box up the leftovers for tomorrow's lunch. One man's treasure, as they say.
The pineapple curry, on the other hand, doesn't last long enough to become leftovers, with lots of tender pork sitting in a bath of fragrant and fiery red curry coconut milk. The acidity of big chunks of fresh pineapple cuts through the rich, creamy curry, rounding out the dish with a sweet tanginess.
The basil chicken is also tasty. Moist chicken is tossed in with crispy yellow and green beans, crunchy spears of carrot and colourful peppers. The clean broth is light and deeply savoury, but has only a whisper of heat and far too few sprigs of pungent basil.
All in all, there has been a bit of a suburban approach to the food; the timid use of spice and rarely bold flavours feel a bit unadventurous. But this is a suburban restaurant, so it doesn't feel like a failure as much as it feels like perhaps lack of surety that diners in Bedford are really open to bold Asian flavours.
By the time we wrap up our lunch, many of the other tables have filled up and a pleasant hum of chatter replaces the silence of our arrival. So bold or not, there is at least an audience for the flavours being offered.