This past weekend, I was introduced to the wonders of ChuChai, a vegan Thai restaurant located on St-Denis, just above Duluth. Unlike other vegan restaurants in Montreal (and all vegetarian restaurants, generally), ChuChai’s menu is completely meat-oriented. Of course, if you read the small print on their menu, you’ll see that what you are eating is anything but meat; however, if you happen to let the menu fall open in your lap, you will see entrée headings categorized by ‘Vegetarian Beef’, ‘Vegetarian Duck’ and more. Notably, before visiting ChuChai, I was informed that this restaurant succeeds (perhaps, unintentionally) at convincing clients that the food they are eating is meat, in shape, colour and for the most part, texture. Essentially, the concept of ‘tofurkey’ is taken to a (very delectable) extreme, in the subtlest of manners.
Now, as the open-minded omnivore that I strive to be, I allowed my fellow table guests (my ChuChai-obsessed good friend and her sister) to choose our main courses. Upon spotting the ‘Vegetarian Shrimp’ list, however, I couldn’t help but ask how in the whole wide world someone could shape, flavour and texturize vegetable protein into something that resembled a salt-water shrimp. Like, seriously? My tablemate assured me that it was completely do-able (and that I should probably shut up) and she promptly ordered the Shrimp, Crispy Spinach and Peanut Sauce ($15.95, pictured above), the Duck in Red Curry, Tomato, Pineapple and Basil ($15.95) and the Breaded Seaweed with Sweet and Spicy Sauce ($7.95) appetizer. Along with two servings of steaming sticky rice ($2.95 each, pictured above). Fine.
Our appetizers arrived first – crunchy seaweed pieces coated in a tart/sweet sauce, topped with sesame seeds. Our sticky rice arrived in small bamboo baskets, closely followed by the main plates, both of which were beautifully presented on white dishware. I must admit that it looked as though our meals genuinely contained full shrimp pieces and sliced duck, in colour and shape. Upon sampling the crunchy spinach, I tried my first piece of peanut-sauce-coated-pseudo-shrimp, and it was delicious. Naturally, it was slightly softer and less chewy than the real thing, however, in this Thai-inspired dish, it tasted extraordinary. As well, the curry duck, I would argue, was mouth-watering and incredibly similar to the real thing.
Of course, as a non-vegan, I need to actively remember the inherent uselessness of these comparisons – ChuChai’s dishes are not intended to be critically positioned beside their meat counterparts. A simple appreciation for great flavour combinations is all you need to bring to a ChuChai experience. The unique twists they offer to traditional Thai food, coupled with good service and a lovely ambiance are what you can hope for during your next visit to this lovely Montreal eatery.
(Calling ahead for a reservation is highly recommended!)
~ Tyler Yank
~ Photo Credit: Alisa Kuzmina