Restaurant That Retains Its Style
n Connecticut, the Bangkok in Danbury was a pioneer in Thai Restaurants when it first opened its doors early in 1986. At that time the sweet, salty, sour and spicy flavors of the cuisine were familiar only to those fortunate enough to have visited Thailand or Thai restaurants elsewhere in the United States.
Since then Thai restaurants have sprouted throughout the state, with two others in Danbury alone. We have watched as some have modified their cuisine to what they perceived to be Western taste, cutting back on the Thai ingredients used, and in the process devaluing their Thai uniqueness. At some restaurants neither coriander nor lemon grass were used - unthinkable in a Thai kitchen! It was thus with some trepidation that we revisited Bangkok, hopeful that it had retained its culinary integrity but fearful that it too might have tried adaptation.
We need not have worried. The same chef still runs the kitchen, and the same balance of flavors was evident in all the dishes we ordered. The long, narrow storefront space even looked the same, with handsome wood booths (with glass-topped tables) along each wall, colorful floral parasols inverted on the ceiling, and orchid walls hung with blow-ups of Thai scenery.
There are 60 dishes on the menu (including items in every course category except desserts, which are minimal). Each has a brief English description beneath the Thai name. Fortunately for novices, the waitresses (in our experience anyhow) were willing to explain each dish in greater detail than the menu listing.
We began each dinner visit with soup: One time it was tom yum gai soup (a broth with chicken and mushrooms and the tantalizing undercurrent of lemon grass and ginger). Another time it was tom ka gai (chicken, mushrooms, lemon grass and other spices in a coconut milk broth) and tom yum goong (large shrimps, mushrooms, scallions, ginger, lemon grass, green chilies and coriander in a clear broth). While all three were intriguingly complex, the edge went to tom yum goong for its exquisite balance of elusive flavors and incendiary undertow.
This balance permeated almost all of our dishes. Another point to note: freshness is a key to Thai cooking and every dish we sampled at Bangkok had the zing of being freshly made. Even bo-pit tod (bite-size spring rolls filled with ground pork, bean sprouts, bamboo shoots and Thai spices) and pak sot (similar in size and shape but filled with chopped cabbage, carrots and other fresh vegetables) seemed freshly made. Both were enlivened by a prik nam pla sauce with green peppers, lemon juice, onion, garlic and fresh coriander in it.
We were delighted to see two old favorites on the menu and on separate occasions we enjoyed them both: Larb (made with ground pork, spices and heaps of fresh coriander) and the equally incendiary nam sod (ground pork mixed with ginger, topped with peanuts, on a bed of lettuce).
Among many zestily rewarding entrees, we would single out especially nhua phat ka pao (tender beef slices with fresh basil leaves and hot chili in a rich, spicy, deeply resonating sauce), gang keo wan gai (pieces of chicken breast, galanga leaf and bamboo shoots in a spicy green curry sauce), and moo pad ka-pao (pork slices with fresh mint, garlic and chili in a fiery sauce).
Noodle dishes are another Thai given, and the pad Thai (noodles with shrimp, tofu, bean sprouts and onion) was richly rewarding.
In fact, of all the dishes we tried, there were just two disappointments: One was a starter: tod-man goong (ground shrimp cakes deep-fried), which was too dense and heavy. The second was the custard cake, which was also heavy and too gooey for our taste. A better dessert choice was coconut ice cream (made on the premises), which was a refreshingly cool exclamation point to a red hot Thai dinner.
Prices at Bangkok are still surprisingly low. It is currently possible to eat very well for less than $18 a person (depending on the entree chosen). That would include three courses and a bottle of Singha, Thai beer (the drink of choice with Thai food). With tax and tip, the total might just top $21. Considering the freshness of ingredients, the authenticity of the cooking and the generous portions, Bangkok is both a bargain and a rare delight.
- Patricia Brooks
72 Newtown Rd.
For questions or comments call
Hillery at 352.333.3125