St-Hubert Street’s widely anticipated Thai eatery Pichai is done waiting for coronavirus restrictions to ease to make its debut. As of today (May 12), it’s serving a slick takeout menu of grilled meats and veggies, fresh salads, and natural wines, under the banner “Pichai on the Grill.”
Conceived by Jesse Grasso, formerly of Toronto’s Black Hoof and Vin Papillon, and Jesse Mulder, co-owner of beloved Little Italy curry shop Pumpui, the menu includes such traditional Thai dishes as sup nor mai, a braised bamboo shoot salad described as “very spicy and funky”; laab dok kalaam, an herby grilled cauliflower salad with sticky rice; and sai krok isan, a grilled rice-fermented Berkshire sausage (supplied by local butcher shop Aliments Viens). For anyone who’d been won over by early descriptions of Pichai’s family-style dining, there’s a grilled half chicken fit for two, accompanied by a tamarind sauce for dipping, and family-size Thai tea-infused tiramisu for dessert. Ice cream sandwiches with a filling from L’Armoire à Glaces, just a stone’s throw away, provide a sweet finale for anyone dining solo.
Like Mulder, two of Pichai’s other owners, Jesse Massumi and Xavier Cloutier, are also at the helm of Pumpui, and patrons will notice this new venture bares some similarities to their last — in more than just their colour-swapped logos and celebration of Thai foodways and flavours.
Pichai’s walls, like Pumpui’s, are decked in grids of glossy white tiles, “a nod to old Bangkok curry shops,” Massumi says, as well as metal panelling, reminiscent of the roll-down storefront shutter gates found in Southeast Asia. Even the vibrant shamrock green fabric that clothes the restaurant’s stools, chairs, and banquettes feels vaguely familiar — perhaps it’s meant to bring to mind Pumpui’s snappy reptilian mascot? The works of local artists Albert Nguyen and Mathieu Dionne, recognizable to any Pumpui merch-loving devotee, also make return appearances.
Otherwise, the design of the 45-seat space, developed with the help of Clothilde Caillé Levesque, harkens back to the 1960s, with elements like a partition of stacked vintage glass blocks, chairs from the era tracked down at a Quebec City retirement facility, and banquette seating modelled on a bench seen in the New Otani, a Tokyo hotel built for the 1964 Olympics.
Massumi calls the design “Pumpui grown up,” a description that braids neatly with the restaurant’s name, meaning “older brother” in Thai. Conceptually, Pichai is destined to be the formal foil to Pumpui’s casual counter-service setting. If Pumpui is where locals drift in for a hearty one-dish meal, then Pichai is where they’ll head for an enviable Friday night spent with friends feasting on a seemingly interminable spread of veggies, meats, and natural wines. That remains the goal, but as Massumi says, “Pichai is on the grill until we are able to open.”
Late in 2020, Massumi told Cult Montreal that Pichai’s team members — which also include partners Chitakone Phonmavongxay (Thammada); Ching Kong Han (Épicerie Hour Hong), and Samuel Croteau — were in agreement: The restaurant would not be opening as a takeout-only spot. But plans, especially those devised in the throes of an unprecedented disaster, are prone to change. With Quebec yet to provide a well-defined timeline for terrasse season, let alone the resumption of indoor dining service, surely no one will be opposed to Pichai opting to whet our appetites with a takeout offering in the meantime.
Pichai is open for takeout Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday, from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., and Friday and Saturday, from noon to 9 p.m., at 5985 St-Hubert.