Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Review: Bangkok Thai in Portland, Maine

Before coming to Bangor we lived in Newton, Massachusetts and ate regularly at Thai Thai Kitchen, a friendly, family-run hole-in-the-wall where I became addicted to the hot, sweet, and tangy flavors of Thai cooking. During busy weeks, when the inevitable urge for spicy noodles hit, we ordered take out. I developed a dependency on tofu fresh rolls with peanut dipping sauce. Vegetable Pad Thai, with fresh lime, chopped peanuts, and four star chili became my comfort food.

Leaving Thai Thai was one of the hardest parts of moving, and on our first trip back to Boston in February I considered packing a cooler so that I could bring a few orders of noodles back with me to Bangor. Imagine my heartache when we arrived in Newton Centre and discovered that Thai Thai had become Thai-Viet, a cheap, impersonal, hastily-decorated chain outfit. Disoriented, we ate there anyway, but the lively flavors of ginger, lime, and basil were gone. My noodles were seasoned with salt and corn syrup.

I'm still searching a Thai place in Bangor that will help me mourn my loss (it won't be Thai Siam--they charged extra and made a stink about preparing their mediocre wild curry without fish sauce), but for now, my appetite for spicy noodles is sadly underserved.

Last Saturday we were in Portland, and since Green Elephant had a line out the door, we crossed the street to Bangkok Thai, which has the same owners. The restaurant was busy at 6 o'clock, but we didn't have to wait for a table. Out the large front windows we watched the setting sun illuminate Mr. Longfellow in shades of orange and red. In keeping with the hip, minimalist Asian aesthetic, the server sent our order to the kitchen a pda.

We ordered tofu fresh rolls as an appetizer. I've never met a fresh roll I didn't like; I'm a sucker for crunchy lettuce, carrots and refreshing mint bundled inside sticky, delicate rice paper. The fresh rolls at Bangkok Thai hit the spot, though the special house sauce was fruitier than I've had elsewhere.

I ordered the Pud Thai (an alternate spelling of Pad Thai?) with tofu, which the server assured me didn't contain fish sauce. After burning off my nose hairs with a four star dish at Green Elephant last month, I ordered my noodles with three stars. Either the scales are different at the two restaurants or I've grown a lot tougher, because my meal was only mildly spicy, and my husband's four star Spicy Tofu with Basil was just about right. My Pud Thai came with lots of crunchy bean sprouts to mix in with the noodles, but it would have been even better with some carrots and broccoli, too. I would order this dish again because I enjoyed the contrasting textures of rice noodles and raw sprouts, but its dominant flavor was salt, and it didn't deliver the tangy lime, peanut, and chili notes I was looking for.

Vegans can have a hard time finding dessert in restaurants, so I was thrilled to see that I had some options. We ordered coconut ice cream, served in a coconut shell bowl. It was rich and smooth and came with chopped peanuts on top. The sticky rice with coconut milk and mango is also vegan.

Bangkok Thai's menu is online. They've added the vegan desserts, as well as beer and wine, since posting it. There is an ample vegetarian section, and many dishes can be made vegan by omitting egg or fish sauce. On the chickpea scale of vegan-friendliness, I give Bangkok Thai a very respectable three chickpeas. It's a safe bet if you're looking for a quick, economical vegan meal.

4 comments:

  1. I am quite wary of eating out, especially with thai because most places can't/won't leave out the fish sauce and I have had bits of chicken appear in my vege dishes! But your meal sounds delicious and I will have to try and find a more veggie friendly thai place near me :)

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  2. Thai restaurants can be sketchy, but once you find a good one... oh boy. I could eat spicy coconut things all day every day.

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  3. I love this restaurant! Their Keemao Tofu is soooo yummy!

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  4. Now I know where I want to go eat dinner tonight! We were thinking Green Elephant, but like you said it's doubtful we'll get a table at 6 pm. Thanks for reminding me of this wonderful spot!

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