I have been wanting to review ChuChai since I began this site, but I wanted to go back another time so I could write with my experience fresh in my mind.
ChuChai’s Lily Sirikitikkul will BLOW YOUR MIND. I’ve had faux meats a few times, including at Boston’s Grasshopper which is well known for its asian inspired cuisine and faux-meat selection, (but I find their seitan beef for example, leaning closer to seitan than to beef, and it would never trick a carnivore). However, I told Rachelle last night, that I am pretty sure I could take any carnivore to ChuChai and they would not know the difference. From the faux shrimp, with their rubbery texture, seafood-y flavour, and pink colouring, to the fatty, succulent, and crispy duck (marking a very, very close resemblance to dunk confit, for french food lovers), and to the very tender beef, the faux-magic is sublime. I’m not even a big faux-meat lover in general. I would rather eat tofu and veggies most days, and in general find vegetarian foods that resemble, either in name or form, a dead animal, a bit repulsive. That said, if you are having a hard time staving off your summer cravings for shrimp or tender red meat, ChuChai will save you from committing a carnivorous sin.
Now, faux meats or not, ChuChai is divine because of its culinary brilliance and not because of its meat. I would be happy there if all they served were non-faux-meat dishes. Granted, I only took a several day Thai cooking class in Chang Mai, several years ago, but I like to think that I know a thing or two about good Thai food. ChuChai is authentic without the kitzsch that comes along with some local Thai places, and as I have written in other reviews, I am always looking for somewhere I actually want to hang out, go on a date, and drink some wine without sacrificing my morals. ChuChai offers ambience, quality service, impeccably plated dishes, and quality food every time at really reasonable prices.
Rachelle first took me t to ChuChai on Halloween night in 2009, and again in December 2009 with newly married friends, and nouveaux montréalais, Matt and Lauren, and again last night we had an extremely pleasant date. Each time, I was really, really blown away, and had literally nothing to complain about. Which NEVER happens. (Ok, actually service was really slow the first time, but I’ve scratched that considering how phenomenal the food is.)
ChuChai is located on trendy St. Denis and seats about 40 people inside, but last night the terrace was open and hopping. The dark interior with subtle lighting is romantic, but chic, and offers an upscale but casual feel. Now, the brilliant thing about ChuChai, that we tried out last night is Chuch. Located in the adjoining building, Chuch is the express/takeout/apportez votre vin sister to ChuChai. At Chuch, you can grab prepared items to go, or you can sit inside or out, and order off the full menu, with the option to bring your own wine which is a total bonus. Last night was the first time we opted for this. Bring your own wine, something you really only see in Montreal, is my new favourite thing and is one reason to opt for Chuch since the food and service is ultimately the same.
Last night, also for the first time, we opted for the Table d’Hote, and I’m so glad we did. We started with the chef’s appetizer, a medley of choices from the menu including the Chef’s award winning appetizer consisting of dried shredded coconut on a Thai spinache like leaf. My words can’t do it justice, but you MUST try this. We had it the last time as well, and were totally blown away. So, essentially, this leaf (which I have never seen anywhere else before) is thick, almost crispy, and on it is served crispy coconut and some kind of sweet sauce. When you roll of the leaf and pop the whole thing in your mouth, there is an explosion of flavours unlike anything I’ve ever had. All of the essential Thai flavours are there, and it is simply and totally divine. We also had a dumpling in peanut sauce (also, ChuChai boasts one of our favourite peanut sauce recipes), a deep fried shrimp in sweet and sour sauce, another kind of wanton, and finally, my favourite, Thai green papaya salad (albeit, made with mangos, but the idea was there, and successfully executed).
For dinner, we had (again) the soya sauce glazed duck and sweet crispy spinach and (new) a yellow beef curry with potatoes and carrots. This duck, I must say, I have been raving about for the last six months since I first had it. I have always said, that if I had to pick a last supper before I died, I might sin and ask for duck confit, because until I went veg, this was by far, my absolute favourite thing in the world. I now, thanks to ChuChai, will not have to sacrifice my morals for pleasure on my death bed. This duck, a large enough serving for two, is tender and juicy on the inside, with (again, NO IDEA how she does this) fat marbling inside, and a crispy and crunchy exterior. The spinach and glaze make this a stellar dish. The yellow coconut curry, a simple dish, was also superb. It was the first time we tried a beef dish, and we were really blown away by the textures and flavours. Finalement, le dessert: Not once since I came back from Thailand about 4 years ago have I ever found real Thai sticky rice and mango until last night. Rachelle was too full to move and she even finished her entire dessert. If you haven’t had this dessert, go, nay RUN, to ChuChai. We each had a small portion, covered with creamy and fluffy coconut cream and puffed rice on top, with fresh sliced mango, and two branches each of green and red grapes.
One of the best meals I have had in a long time.
Note: ChuChai is about 98% vegan, but be careful, there are a few things to watch out for, name the Pad Thai which is made with eggs. Ask your server if you are concerned.
Another note: While I rave about Chuch, be warned that the single difference in food is that much it may be microwaved instead of prepared fresh. Not that we noticed the difference.
(For background on ChuChai and its proprietors, check out Christina Vani’s four part review and expose from the Montreal Vegan Food Examiner.)