February 22, 2011

Gluten-free dining: Viphalay


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A few weeks ago, I wrote about trying to save money on our grocery bill. Of course, belt-tightening also means eating out a lot less. But restaurants have also been more difficult because of our restricted diets, especially mine. I guess you could say it's a blessing that eating in restaurants is harder when we also can't afford it as often.

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Sometimes, we splurge at places we love, and one of them is Viphalay.

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Viphalay (pronounced Veep-a-lay) is the best Thai restaurant we've tried in Edmonton. Of course, there are many we haven’t been to, but it is very hard to find fault with this place, so we haven’t had to visit all the others. The food is fantastic, the atmosphere cozy, the service down to earth. We like Viphalay so much we've brought all of our family here when they visit: first my Mom and grandmother last year, more recently J's parents when they visited. Everyone loves it.

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The best part? I loved this restaurant before I knew I had celiac disease, and now I can still eat there. The staff is extremely flexible in the kitchen, able to adapt most dishes to make them gluten-free with no change in taste that I can detect. It is an amazing feeling to know I can happily and safely eat at one of my favourite restaurants with no fear of feeling sick.

Our love of Viphalay was confirmed again after eating there with J's brother and his wife. Last year, they spent a few months in Southeast Asia, including travels in Thailand and Laos. Viphalay brought them back in a big way. They said the food and the beer was just as good as what they ate there, and that even the music playing in the restaurant reminded them of their trip. 

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The menu at Viphalay is extensive, with soups, salads, noodle dishes, curries and stir-fries. We've tried many dishes and enjoyed them all, but we keep coming back to our favourites: salad rolls, pad thai, drunken noodles, and curries.

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The salad rolls not only taste delicious, they are miniature works of art. The thin rice paper reveals the curve of a pink shrimp and a delicate green basil leaf. Inside, there is also thinly sliced tofu, bean sprouts and julienned carrots. The best part might be the dipping sauce - a thick, sweet, peanut satay sauce that J has said on more than one occasion he could happily swim in. (The second dipping sauce, a clear sweet sauce with chopped peanuts, is good too, but doesn’t really compare to the thicker sauce.) The plate, and many others, comes garnished with a beautiful dark-red or orange flower, skillfully carved out of a beet or carrot.

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Another great appetizer is the chicken satay, partly because it's served with the same intoxicating sauce. The strips of chicken skewers are also delicately flavoured with lemongrass. For the gluten-tolerant, the shrimp in red wine are apparently fantastic too, and the restaurant's most popular appetizer.

The Pad Thai is incredible: silky, fragrant, with perfectly-cooked shrimp and juicy tofu, crunchy bean sprouts and other vegetables.

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I used to order the green curry, but after my diagnosis I learned only the Penang and the Massamum versions are gluten-free, so now the Penang (seen in the first photo above) is my go-to. Both of them feature thinly sliced beef or chicken in flavourful sauces that I could happily slurp up every day of the week.  The green curry is quite spicy, the Penang sweeter with less of a bite, but both are equally good. We usually order sweet, light coconut rice to mop up the rich sauce.

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We also love the drunken noodles, though I can't eat them anymore since the noodles are made of wheat. These thin, curly noodles are mixed with vegetables and meat or shrimp in a spicy sauce. The orange cashew chicken in another winner. Simple but delicious, with chunks of juicy chicken and crunchy cashews in an subtle, orange-flavoured sauce. We've also tried the coconut soup, with chicken, onion slices and fresh tomato in a thin, sweet and sour coconut broth. I enjoyed it, but it wasn't quite as good as the other dishes I enjoy, so I probably won't order it again.

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They also offer a nice array of drinks, including Laos and Thai beer. We've enjoyed their refreshing pureed tropical juices, and the little teacups they serve with tea are works of art.

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If you leave any room for dessert, the banana envelopes are excellent. Again, I had the pleasure of eating these before my diagnosis, and the memory is sweet. The little deep-fried pastries are thin and crispy, stuffed with warm, soft banana, drizzled with maple syrup and sprinkled with powdered sugar. A tray of them is perfect to share as a sweet ending to the meal.

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The food at Viphalay hits the spot every time - I've never had a bad meal there or even noticed any small inconsistencies. The balance in the flavours is perfect, with notes of sweetness, heat, sourness and salt.

But another reason I love eating there is because of the friendly service. Viphalay is a family restaurant, with owner Vipha Mounma cooking in the kitchen and her daughter Susan, the manager, taking care of the dining room. On busier nights we've also had a young man serve us, who I believe is one of Vipha's sons-in-law. Often young children in the family sit at a table near the bar, but the room never becomes noisy and obnoxious. The decor is also simple and classy, with glass-topped tables covered with patterned red tablecloths and a pretty Buddha statue near the bar.   

Now that I'm looking again at the menu online, there are so many other dishes I would love to try. But to be honest, I’m not sure when that will happen. We've found what we love, and that makes it hard to venture outside our favourites. I guess it means we'll have to keep going back to Viphalay again and again.

Viphalay Laos and Thai Restaurant
10724 95 st. Edmonton
viphalay.com

4 comments:

Kevin Kossowan said...

I've heard nothing but good things about this place, and have never been. I visit seems overdue. And when we do, I'll refer to your favorites. It drives me nuts when we send folks to a place to try something they do well, and they order something else, and it's not great...

Anne said...

Ohhh, I can't wait to go there again with you on my next visit! I remember how delicious everything was. Do you ever let restaurants know when you've given them a glowing review? I'm sure these folks would be delighted to read this!
Love, Mom

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the wonderfull review, Riley Viphalay

Bahumat said...

A great alternative to Viphalay is Boualouang; the owners of Viphalay are friends of the owners of Boualouang, and in fact, got into the business at the urging of the Boulouang folks.

Viphalay is, I'd say, 99.5% as good as Boualouang, so the difference is so slight I'll generally just go to whichever is closer at the time that the craving for authentic thai food arises. :)

I was raised in thailand for a good chunk of my childhood, so I know the real thing, and they're it. Gotta love 'em, delicious flavors and aromas and fresh, fresh food.