First Look: The people behind Soi Thai and Shanee bring refined Thai cuisine to Midtown with Dee


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Image: Yvonne Tsui

Sherry Lertchaiprasert Papa is a seasoned restaurateur and first made her way onto the Toronto Thai culinary scene with her restaurant Soi Thai on College Street, which dished up Thai street food. Becoming a restaurateur was more of a passion project for Papa, whose family owns a bottle recycling business in Thailand. When Papa first immigrated to Canada, she was craving a taste of home which is how Soi Thai was born.

Papa’s restaurant concepts have “matured,” a reflection of her growing experience as a restaurateur. “Soi Thai was the teenage girl next door,” Shanee was the “party girl” and her newest addition, Dee at Yonge and Davisville is the “sophisticated bigger sister” which hopes to bring “refined Thai cuisine” to midtown. It occupies the former Lil’ Baci spot.

Dee is a Thai superlative, but Papa also says that it is also a play on words that begin with the letter d — delicious, delightful, divine. At the centre of the motif and décor at Dee is Thai artist, Piyaporn Jansiriwilaikul’s depiction of Sita, the goddess of good fortune, prosperity, success and happiness. Janisiriwilaikul’s depiction of the goddess in Caucasian form is meant to represent the philosophy of the food at Dee — dishes made with local ingredients but also using Thai elements and Thai flavour; a marriage of East and West. The menu offers “classic Thai dishes but with our own twist,” says Papa.

To start you can bite into Goong Sarong, deep-fried marinated shrimps wrapped in crispy rice noodles, served with sweet chili sauce ($9) or the Lui Suan Rolls ($10), vegetables rolls wrapped in rice paper with edible flowers served with a trio of sauces — spicy strawberry, mango and Dee’s signature green cilantro sauce. You can also opt to get any four appetizers to make Dee’s Platter ($30).

One dish that has never made an appearance on any of Papa’s previous menus is pad thai. Papa’s take, Dee’s Pad Thai ($21), is one that is “fun and flavourful” and meant to be a “feast on one plate,” alluding to the different textural elements such as fried wonton crisps, shrimp chips, cashews and mango that come as accoutrements that surround the dish of rice noodles like a crown. It is a dish that is good for sharing and comes with three jumbo Tiger prawns — no skimping on the proteins here.

Jim Jaew ($21-$28), a showcase of Thai grilling at its best, gives you your choice of protein (salmon, steak, tiger prawns, chicken or tofu) with Thai mixed vegetables served on a bed of rice with a side of spicy Jaew sauce.

As a departure from Papa’s previous Thai spots, where dishes were more tapas-sized, the portions at Dee are quite generous which makes it great for sharing. As with all of Papa’s restaurants, Dee is a vibrant space. There are murals of Sita, including a light-up version towards the rear of the restaurant adorned with Thai rubies. The team at Jump Branding & Design (Paramount Fine Foods, Tavolo) helped bring Papa’s vision to life. The red banquettes are accented with hand painted murals depicting butterflies, exotic birds and lush flowers.

“Red is my favourite colour; it’s an appetizing colour,” says Papa “and the goddess Sita is so stunning that there is no other colour that suits her.”

Most of the interior elements are sourced directly from Thailand — from the dishware to the lighting fixtures to the antique Singer sewing table legs. And if being in the company of a goddess isn’t regal enough for you, Mom Luang (equivalent of duchess) Sogiwat Lekhakul helped source the Thai red rubies that crown the illuminated Sita at the back of the restaurant.

Dee Thai Cuisine, 2013 Yonge Street, 647-344-8838

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Yvonne lives to eat. She’s known to her friends as the “Ask Alexa” for the best restaurants in cities all over North America. When she's not doing on-the-ground, scrappy PR for TouchBistro, she's a freelance food and drink writer and tells the origin stories, struggles, and successes of restaurateurs – veteran and new.

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