Neighbourhood: West Broadway
Address: 126 Sherbrook St
So called “comfort food” has taken over the food world in recent years. Yet the conception of what constitutes a crave-able dish has begun to change; veggies can be just as indulgent as carbs and gooey melted cheese. Kicky spice and funky fermentation have been invited to the party.
At Khao House, a menu of “Asian comfort food” embraces and introduces dishes beyond the mac n’ cheese bowl. Chef Randy Khounneraj, formerly of Bonfire Bistro, showcases his Laotian heritage through a menu that delivers specialties like laap, kalapao, and naem khao in an intimate atmosphere.
Beneath a leafy canopy on Sherbrook Street, step into this house turned to a warm, ‘homey’ setting. Earth-tone walls hung with a collection of mementos and family photographs add to the hospitable comfort, as do clever South Asian inspired cocktails spiked with ingredients like coconut water, shiso, and black tea.
The menu is a collection of plates for sharing, family style, which highlight traditional dishes from across Asia. Some, like the kalapao—a pillowy steamed bun stuffed with earthymushroom and hard boiled egg and served with a mouth-numbing chile oil—or an umami-bomb pork ramen, deliver traditional tastes with expert technique.
Other dishes feature blasts of creativity in the form of unexpected flavour pairings. A dish named, understatedly, ‘cheese and noodles’, is a symphony of flavours punctuated by the sweet-sour tang of pickled grapes, creamy notes of goat cheese and cheddar, and fresh hits of mint. A salad of smoky charred corn, avocado, red onion and herbs arrives cupped in a leaf of lettuce, tossed in addictive miso peanut dressing.
Don’t shy from the fried chicken—under a drizzle of Japanese mayo and a pile of filmy bonito flakes, the bird is slathered in gochujang, the spicy Korean condiment made from fermented chiles, which livens the juicy meat with just enough zing. Do, however, spring for a side of fried rice, which is dotted with full slices of garlic clove.
Laotian cooking is, by its very nature and history, fusion food, birthed out of a migration from Northern China and influenced at turns by French occupation and greater mobility between Laos, Thailand, and Cambodia. Signatures of the cuisine appear on the menu, like shaved papaya salad and laap, a raw meat salad. Housemade Thai sausage is a standout dish, savoury and spice-kicked, crumbling gently into a pile of pickled veggies and accented with jeow som, a tangy tomato-based Laotian salsa. Khao soi is a belly-warming bowl of rice noodles and veggies set in a pool of creamy Thai curry broth dotted with chile oil.
With 36 seats and 11 menu items, Khao House proves the adage about small packages; this one is packed with a world of flavour.