|Choo-Chee Goong and Pad-Mah-Kuer-Jae|
The Columbia restaurant has been a local attraction for years, and we have gone twice since it was sold earlier this year and added the lucky "9" to its name. Thai food makes for happy evenings -- in no small part because it was part of our early dates and our honeymoon.
Bangkok Garden can deliver. When it's on, the food is light and punchy. The sauces are so delicious that I wanted extra rice to spoon it all up. We have wiped out an appetizer and two large plates of food because it's just too much fun to box up.
Sharing a bunch of courses is important because you can sample so many different flavors in a Thai meal. You could start with larb -- the cold salad made with minced chicken, lime juice, fish sauce, and herbs. Or you could flip around to curry puffs -- a fried, flaky pastry like a samosa, stuffed with pureed chicken and pastry and served hot with a cucumber sauce.
Either way, the food should be delicious. If it's not, say something. On our first visit, the "two-star" larb came so spicy that it was inedible for Mrs. HowChow. On the same table, a stirfry that we'd ordered with medium heat arrived with almost no flavor at all.
We should have pointed out the problem. Bangkok Garden wants to serve high quality food. The menu runs through a line of curries, stirfries, and noodles dishes. Many are outside the usual suspects, and the waiter would have been disappointed to know that we had only really enjoyed the mussaman curry, which combines avocado, coconut milk, and peanut.
That's why we went back last week. On a second try, the dishes brought us back to Thailand. The choo-chee goong is a plate of grilled shrimp and broccoli on a curry sauce that mixed coconut milk, red peppers, and some melange of spices that I can't identify but that I know from Thai dinners. The pad-mah-kuer-jae was eggplants and tofu with the same "one star" spiciness -- a mild burn, but nothing that should scare away anyone.
The dishes were cooked beautifully. The slight char on the shrimp contrasted beautifully with the curry sauce. The eggplant was crunchy, but cooked through. Personally, I like vegetable stirfries when they're done well because pork and white meat chicken seem bland when they're surrounded by real flavor in the sauce and vegetables.
Get that real flavor. Like Indian food and others that rely on spices for their flavor, a Thai stirfry is just boring if you just get vegetables touched with a little oil or soy sauce. I should have sent back our initial, bland stirfry. I think they would have been happy to hear that we wanted authentic.
(Although don't bluff about spiciness. Bangkok Garden offers a "four star" heat that they call "Thai Hot." Hot for Thai people is probablyt too much even for me. We actually heard the waiter try to wave away a couple. They went all the way, and they seemed very happy.)
Next time, we're going to save space for dessert. Maybe mango spicy rice, maybe bua loy -- a dessert described as taro cakes in coconut milk.
Two more thoughts on Bangkok Garden. First, they charge for extra rice. Seriously? A restaurant loses a bit of class when it charges almost $20 for a shrimp curry and then $1.25 more for a five-cent scoop of rice. Second, bring a sweater. They jack up the air conditioning, which can be a refreshing blast on a hot day. But it can be cold if you're unprepared.
Bangkok Garden 9
(under new management in 2011)
5810 RObert Oliver Place
Columbia, MD 21045