Or it’s Thai, and you always order chicken curry. In a year or two or maybe even five, you’re going to be sitting there with your wife and your kid, trying to decide where you want to eat, and guess what? Absolutely nothing is going to appeal to you. You’ll bicker for a while, and then someone will get exasperated and pick something—anything—and you’ll go there and eat and feel dissatisfied and you won’t know why.
There is one obvious cure to your dining malaise: Make the effort to find those restaurants that go above and beyond the obvious. It’s true that many small restaurants don’t have the resources to offer an adventurous menu, but some can. You just have to look and ask and be willing to experiment when the choice is offered to you.
Bangkok Thai Cuisine is the kind of place that will reward your bravery. The restaurant is tucked away in a strip mall between a sewing-machine repair shop and the Red Fox bar. Inside, the space is distinguished by a fountain and a ceiling painted a whimsical robin’s egg blue. Service is both prompt and friendly—definitely worth mentioning.
Bangkok Thai offers faithful, decent interpretations of such standards as chicken satay and pad Thai, but the restaurant really shines with its less-familiar offerings. The menu offers more than a dozen appetizers, and there is usually an appetizer up on the specials board as well. Many restaurants offer one type of egg roll, but Bangkok Thai lists three: a vegetarian spring roll; gift egg rolls stuffed with potato, chicken and curry powder; and Bangkok rolls with ground shrimp, chicken and pepper. The latter are unusual in that there is a definite aftertaste of black pepper, unexpected in a Thai restaurant.
One recent special offered a combination of Bangkok rolls, chicken satay and fish cakes ($6.95). The satay was quite good, and the fish cakes were delicious. The texture was very slightly chewy, but the taste was otherworldly, with a haunting citrus flavor the hostess identified as lemon leaf. The trio of appetizers was accompanied by a small serving of cucumbers marinated in a spicy-sweet sauce and topped with ground peanuts, a classic flavor/texture combination.
An order of pad Thai ($7.95) was good without being outstanding, although spice addicts might find it a little on the bland side. Still, the rendition was satisfying, with succulent shrimp and deep-fried cubes of tofu nestled in the stir-fried noodles.
But a green seafood curry in young coconut ($10.95 special) was stellar. The curry of shrimp, squid and scallops arrived inside the coconut, which was decorated with basil sprigs and a nest of carrot strips. The dish was almost too pretty to eat, with even the squid scored with a knife into exotic flower shapes. The trick here was to use a spoon to sliver off shreds of the coconut to mix into the curry so the sweet translucent flesh echoed the coconut milk in the sauce. This is the kind of dish you’ll continue to eat long after you’ve passed the comfortably full stage.
Trout in banana leaf ($10.95) was similarly beguiling. Grilled trout was taken off the bone and steamed in a banana-leaf container. The fish came layered over basil leaves and sprinkled with lemongrass and slivers of red bell peppers, served with a tart but sweet green sauce. This dish, although seemingly simple, was so much more than the sum of its parts. The basil and lemongrass infused the delicate fish with a haunting complexity of flavor highlighted by the cool citrus-y tang of the sauce.
Remember the first time you inhaled a bowl of pho at some late-night noodle joint in San Francisco, the first time you tried sushi that was actually raw and not some misbegotten surimi-stuffed California roll, the first time you tasted wild salmon hours out of the bay? The older you get, the more rare those moments become. Bangkok Thai offers diners the opportunity to recapture that sudden shock of surprise and pleasure on tasting something completely new. You’re in no danger of suffering cuisine burnout here; it would take the hardiest eater months to make his way through the extensive menu.