Nana Restaurant Toronto
Located at 785 Queen Street W. (in the Trinity Bellwoods neighborhood), Nana sparked a lot of excitement when its doors opened almost a year ago. Being the younger sister restaurant of one of my favourite places in the city, Khao San Road, my initial dining experience here felt a lot like meeting my significant other’s family for the first time. I was nervous, excited and my expectations were a little high since I am head over heels about the original. It’s too bad this turned out to be the trashy younger sister that makes everyone uncomfortable.
The space is basic, dark and mostly dingy. It is meant to resemble a Thai street cafe with its cobble stone floors, shutters on exposed brick walls and crappy patio furniture as the dining room seating. This type of “grungy” street decor works in some places, especially when done right (for example 416 snack bar, khao san road, odd seoul, etc) but here it just looks cheap. The tables are cramped, the seating absolutely ass numbing and the room way too dim for a proper dining experience. Our first visit was just after they opened and we attributed these shortcomings to its growing pains, however, almost a year later, nothing has changed. There’s no excuse now.
The food; however, is great. Small portions, overpriced but definitely tasty. Everything on the menu is flavourful, expertly seasoned and tastes extremely fresh. The tom yum soup embodies the true complexity of Thai dishes. It is spicy for sure but also balanced in acidity and saltiness. The soup is packed full of galang galang, ginger, lemongrass, lime leaves and dried shrimp to infuse the coconut broth with as much flavour as possible. It is the perfect way to start a meal. Spice levels are not negotiable for any of the plates but there are some delicious dishes that are at zero on the spice scale so fear not! The khao soi and curries are definitely high on the recommendation lists. The pad thai bolan is delicious but comes in a portion that is absolutely laughable in size for a main. If you’re not in the mood for alcohol, the thai iced tea is a great way to wash down the chilli burn. It is a very fragrant ceylon black tea, brewed very strong, mixed with condensed milk and a lot of ice. I’m pretty sure that the tea is infused with other ingredients (possibly cardamom but I could be wrong) but what I know for sure, is that it is a great compliment for the entire meal.
Now for the service… It is generally mediocre with long waiting times and very little interaction with the staff. However, food and beverage knowledge is exceptional so any questions about the menu we’ve had have been promptly answered. The orders are taken very quickly, the food appears just as fast and then the table rots with dirty plates and no bill for 20-30 minutes until the rest of the patrons are served. Wouldn’t it make sense to get us out the door quickly?!
Last but not least, the Nana downfall… the ever present owner. We’ve dined here three times and he’s always been a sore spot in our dining experience. It seems as though this is his preferred drinking spot as we always catch him with a pint of beer in his hand mostly getting in the way of dinner service. On our last visit we had the pleasure of sitting at a table behind him (and some fellow staff members) only to hear a cacophony of swear words, disapproving statements and general bad front of house behaviour. I’ve said it before but bad service makes or breaks any great meal and unfortunately Nana is now broken!
Truth be told, we will be back for take-out since the food really is that good but we’ll never spend another dreadful moment in that dining room.