After Courtney’s lukewarm review and hearing lacklustre comments from friends about Kai Asian Grill (100, 10909 Jasper Avenue), I was less than eager to pay them a visit. But on an evening when venturing outside was a welcome reprieve from a weekend of self-imposed house arrest, coupled with Mack’s need to scope out Kai as a potential venue for an event he was planning, we hopped on a bus to have dinner at Kai.
I’m not sure why the owners decided on a name change (signs boasted of “Tao” coming soon), but I doubt substituting another Asian-sounding monosyllable would have made a resounding difference with the patron reception of the restaurant. At any rate, the interior of the former Chili Hot Hot had been gutted and divided into a number of areas – a dining room, a small sushi bar, two elevated, semi-private dining areas, and finally, a gargantuan lounge, which is at least double the size of the dining room. We asked to be seated in the dining room (as is our custom when trying a new restaurant), but had we known of Kai’s lounge-forward stance, we would have made an exception to our rule. Shades of black and grey dominate the dining room, with looming statues reminding patrons of the restaurant’s Asian and East Asian slant. The most striking feature is the ceiling, however, with lights calling attention to the overhead red hue. I was happy that they decided to maintain the large windows looking out onto Jasper Avenue – the bustling intersection outside makes the restaurant seem that much more cosmopolitan, however coincidental. Everything looked great, polished and perfect, but upon closer inspection, it seems some financial shortcuts were taken. For example, the bamboo plants that lined the side were artificial, while the counters were marble-coated. As the overall renovations must have cost a fortune, I’m willing to cut Kai some slack.
I had previewed the menu online, so knew of Kai’s approach to fusion food – one very similar to OPM, and really, any other restaurant that strives to cater to as many people as possible out there (I’m looking at you Earls, Joeys, and Moxie’s). We were handed cocktail and wine lists, but other beverages such as beer and coffee were nowhere to be seen on the page. Mack would have appreciated this, as his Sapporo beer came in at a surprise $7.25, although he rightly could have confirmed the price prior to ordering it.
The one dish that caught my eye online, the Coconut-Crusted Tofu ($22), maintained my gaze in the restaurant, as I was hoping to satisfy my craving for tofu. Mack, on the other hand, zeroed in on the peculiarly categorized Kai Mini Burger Trio ($16) – we thought it sounded more like an appetizer than an entrée (and would likely encourage more spending if coded as the former). Always up for the house calamari ($9), this time dressed with salt and pepper, we ordered that to start as well.
Our appetizer was delivered quite promptly, dressed with green onions and accompanied by a chili and lime aioli. Dotted with black pepper, Mack liked the calamari well enough, while I was easily swayed by the fact that the battered morsels was fried to a fresh crisp.
Salt and Pepper Calamari
We had a little more time to admire the interior than we wanted to while we waited for our entrees, but the calamari tided us over somewhat. When Mack’s Burger Trio arrived, I couldn’t help but be drawn to the bright orange sweet potato fries – not mentioned in the menu description, we now understood why this had been classified as an entrée. While I don’t know how the burgers fit in with the “Asian fusion” mandate of the restaurant (besides the bamboo skewers used, heh), the sliders were great, particularly because of the type of bun used. The White-Castle-like soft bread cushioned and complimented the thin patty well.
Kai Mini Burger Trio
The size of my dish was deceiving at first glance, though as I began to dig through the rice and vegetables, I found that the bowl held more than met the eye. The Thai curry sauce used lovely, and balanced the heat with a hint of sweetness. The tofu, which had been lightly breaded in coconut, then deep fried, was unfortunately dry in the centre, with a texture that reminded me more of chicken than soy. It was an interesting take, and one I might try to recreate at home, but not again try at Kai.
Coconut Crusted Tofu
I had no complaints about our waitress – she did her best to find all of the answers we needed for our numerous and sundry questions, and as it seemed she was covering both the lounge and the dining room, did a bang up job ensuring all tables were cared for. Though my predilection for Kai steadily improved through my visit, it’s lack of real menu focus prevents me from fully embracing it. I would recommend it, but don’t expect fireworks.
Kai Asian Grill
100, 10909 Jasper Avenue
Monday-Thursday 11am-midnight, Friday-Saturday 5pm-2am