Ignore the Walls 

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From front: Phad gra prow - ground chicken, onion, fresh chiles, and basil; Thai fried rice with crabmeat; vegetarian Thai springrolls; and green curry - eggplant, bell pepper basil leaves, and coconut milk in a slightly sweet sauce. (Photo by Mark Greenberg)
Concentrate on Bangkok Cuisine's delicate flavors

If you can get over the pulsating pistachio paint job at Bangkok Cuisine, you're likely to find the rest of your experience much more aesthetically rewarding. While plate presentation isn't necessarily BC's strong suit either, oh, the tastes! That's where the real art lies.

Passing over the obligatory spring rolls, we zeroed in on tempura - often the Achilles' heel of Asian restaurants. BC upholds the good name of this exacting art with its seafood rendition: With batter crisp and light, the shrimp and whitefish are impeccably fresh and equally delicate. I'm not a big fan of the sticky-sweet hot sauce that accompanies the tempura, but it does cling with a vengeance.

Satay is as obligatory as portraits of the king and queen in a Thai restaurant, and we sampled the pork version. (The regal-looking portrait on the wall is actually of the owner and her daughters.) Marinated in yellow curry, the skewered pork was tender and appealingly spicy, and the peanut sauce - which can often seem like it's straight from Skippy's - was unusually sophisticated.

And while we're on the subject of sophistication, it's tempting to tar the cuisine of any given culture with the same brush - just as others tend to view American food as exclusively hamburgers and hot dogs. In reviewing one restaurant some years ago, I coined the phrase "truck-stop Thai" - not necessarily a slam, but rather a reflection of big, rustic-looking portions with wham-bam flavors. Bangkok Cuisine, on the other hand, exhibits a delicate approach to many dishes, an attitude that speaks more of King of Siam than King of the Road. A good case in point is the spicy mung bean noodle salad, a dish with beautifully textured cellophane noodles and a harmoniously balanced cast of other culinary characters - chicken, shrimp, mushrooms, and red onion among them. It manages to be assertive in its chile count while remaining almost restrained in its overall effect. We thought it needed more lemon, but this was otherwise a salad with savoir faire.

Admittedly, the roasted duck red curry looked like a train wreck; it could hardly be otherwise, I suppose, with duck, tomato, pineapple, and red grapes in an oily red curry sauce enhanced with coconut milk and scented with fresh basil. As with the walls, ignore the look - the tastes are sensational. Even the pineapple worked like a charm. Great grapes, too. And there was enough duck to justify a price near the top of the menu's scale - all of $10.95. In contrast to the exuberance of the duck, the stir-fried eggplant with soybean sauce seemed monastic. Not cooked to the usual mush, the eggplant retained an almost al dente quality, making it the star of a dish that contained beef (our choice) almost incidentally, basil in spades, a few yellow beans, and a spicy sauce that was front and center without tasting domineering.

Bangkok Cuisine
1812 Pat Booker
599-8884
Hours: 1am-3pm,
5-9pm Mon-Fri; 11:30am-10pm Sat
Price range: $8-15
Major credit cards,
no checks
Handicapped accessible
An unspecified "spicy sauce" also informed the phad gra pow, a combination of ground chicken (again, our choice) with onion, bell pepper, and more basil. But here the effect was more one of elusive, spice-box flavors (black pepper among them) than assault-on-the-palate assertiveness. This is a dish that management recommended, leading us to believe that we should take their advice even more freely next time.

We were the ones who insisted on the pla lad prik, and though I might be tempted to try it again, some in the assembled audience found the deep-fried fish lacking. It couldn't be faulted for technique, however: The catfish (and it tasted very much of catfish) had been beautifully fried in another delicate batter. More of the advertised tamarind might have helped the flavor of the sweet and sour sauce.

Soups play an important role in Thai cuisine, and in casting about for something other than the standard thom yung goong (shrimp and mushrooms with lemon grass), we stumbled across the tom yum noodle soup - in the noodles and rice section. Given the choice between ground pork or chicken, we picked the chick, and it was abundant - along with a tangled skein of rice noodles just as delicate and silky as the cellophane noodles. A few bean sprouts, some ground peanut, and a stock with a lilting leitmotif of lime and chiles fleshed out the package. Raves all around - from a tough audience of well-trained tasters.

But so sated were we at this point we passed on dessert. The usual suspects are available, including mango with sweet "stick" rice - meaning "sticky," I suspect. Other items awaiting their turn another time include whole fried fish with ginger sauce, an unusual phad cashew nut with water chestnuts, carrots, celery, and onions, and Bangkok lao dang - deep fried meat with sautéed vegetables and red wine sauce. Bangkok mo fai, a soup with several species of seafood in a clear broth with preserved vegetables and sweet and sour soybeans also sounds promising, pistachio paint notwithstanding. Excuse the obsession, but I think you will see what I mean. •

 
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