Linda, Linda, Linda

The night of The Magic Flute, I met my opera companions at Linda for an early dinner. This upstairs dining room above Salad King is a really lovely place to enjoy deliciously prepared and elegantly served Thai food, although it’s a bit disconcerting the first time that you have to shove your way through the Salad King entrance, past the long communal tables of inexpensive but good Thai served downstairs, and up the stairs to the subdued lighting and calm of Linda. It’s definitely worth the trip, however, but make a reservation since the upstairs room is small. There was, in fact, a weird misunderstanding over our reservation: one of my friends had called to make it, and they’d even called her back to confirm that afternoon, but when I arrived there was no reservation for 3 on their books. We had a long conversation about why it wasn’t there before one of the senior staff said “well, we have a table for three available”. Duh, if you’d just said that in the first place, it would have saved a lot of time and aggravation!

I’ve been to Linda a couple of times before, and the last time they had introduced a 4-course menu for $30 that we tried, and loved. Apparently it changes, since this time there was a completely different 4-course menu; in spite of having only about an hour and a quarter to eat, we all ordered it, cracked a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, and sat back to enjoy the feast.

The first course was a salad of cucumber and pineapple chunks over organic greens with a bit of spice and a lime dressing/marinade. I seem to remember a similar salad from a visit in the summer, so it may be a staple on the menu. The first thing that struck me was the smell: a fresh blend of pineapple and cucumber, with the undercurrents of lime. The salad is crisp and refreshing, and would actually make a great palate cleanser between courses, too.

Second was a sour scallop soup, which was a thick puree of scallops and I’m not sure what else, although I could taste the Kaffir lime leaves as a predominant flavour, which is common in Thai sour seafood soups. It was dressed with a whole scallop and a bit of cilantro, and had enough spice in it to warm us all up a bit. I’m a big fan of sour shrimp soup, which I used to make from time to time, and this was a similar blend of flavours but with a subtlety not usually found in Thai soups. We all agreed that it was amazingly good, and cleaned our bowls.

The main course was a choice of grilled lamb kebabs (I think), crispy duck breast, or a whole fish steamed in banana leaves. We all opted for the fish, and it was truly impressive. First of all the presentation: sealed foil packets were brought to our table and opened to reveal the banana leaves, which were in turn peeled back to reveal the fish. It was some sort of flat round fish, certainly flatter than a snapper, but with a similarly delicate flesh, and had been infused with spices prior to steaming. The server sliced off the top fillet, removed the backbone and tail, and returned the top fillet to its place before presenting me with the dish. Another server spooned fresh rice onto our plates (and returned later to see if we wanted more), and provided a lime and chili sauce for the fish. My two friends, one of whom is from Singapore and the other from Sri Lanka, opted for the spiciest sauce, while I went for the medium-spiced sauce – yum! The fish was heaven: light, perfectly cooked, and wonderfully spiced. I could tell that the opinion was unanimous at the end of the main course when we were all digging the last bits of fish from the heads and off the serving dishes.

The final course was a dessert of a small piece of deep-fried banana accompanied by a scoop of ice cream, with a choice of ice cream flavours including coconut, mango, lichee and others. We all picked coconut, which I found a bit waxy — possibly made with processed coconut rather than fresh — but the bit of banana was tasty and the plating was magnificent. Each plate was decorated in chocolate that had been put on a cold plate and allowed to harden: mine was a floral pattern with bits of strawberry used to fill in the “petals”, one of my friends’ was a delicate abstract geometric pattern, and the third was a very detailed palm tree, complete with little birds flying around.

Marred only by our rush to leave — we ended up in a quick march down Yonge Street to the theatre, and made it there just as the curtain was going up — this was a spectacular combination of flavours and just the right amount of food to leave us satisfied but not too sleepy for the opera.

I really want to go back for the crispy duck and lamb mains before they change the menu.

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