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photo:Byron Nilsson

Asian Adventures
By B.A. Nilsson

Bangkok Thai Bistro

268 State St., Schenectady, 374-3048. Serving Mon-Thu 11-10:30, Fri 11-11, Sat noon-11, Sun noon-10. AE, MC, V.

Cuisine: Americanized Thai

Entrée price range: $10 (steamed vegetables with peanut sauce) to $19 (various seafood dishes)

Ambiance: German beer hall

Let’s face it: We’re a nation of gustatory wimps. Despite significant inroads made by the world’s more savory cuisines, we nervously approach each new country—as we did with China and Mexico and India —saying, “Yeah, that’s great, but is it going to be very spicy?”

Except in the largest metropolitan areas, restaurateurs fear the fickle palates of the white-bread set, who are difficult to lure into any place exotic, let alone to persuade them to try something unfamiliar.

You and I don’t behave like that, of course, but we still pay the price for the timidity of others, and even when we insist that we’ll take the full-blown heat quotient, we rarely get it.

That’s why I’m going to have to cultivate a long-term relationship with Bangkok Thai Bistro, Schenectady’s latest attempt to situate fine dining on downtown’s State Street. I want them to believe me when I say I can take the heat.

Not that I’m really grumbling about what I was served there. A good Thai curry is worth its weight in gold, whether the curry itself be green, red or yellow. Coconut milk is a key ingredient, giving it a sweetness you typically don’t find in the Indian version.

At Bangkok Thai Bistro, you pay according to the prevailing component you choose. Chicken, beef, pork or vegetable curry, whatever the color, is $11; shrimp, scallops or duck is $15. And, if coconut milk is not for you, try the fresh basil curry, in a spicy brown sauce.

Green curry for me, because it tends to be the spiciest and most flavorful (qualities that actually do exist independently for me, although those who’ve witnessed me wolfing chili peppers disagree). And I splurged on duck as the accompanying meat, because it stands up to just about anything you throw at it, spice-wise.

The accompanying rice helps spread that flavor, and makes it a totally satisfying meal. So I’m happy to see this restaurant surface in Schenectady, and I wish them well. Given the history of restaurants on State Street, it may be an uphill struggle.

The hundred-year-old building had a significant history as a German restaurant before it became a sandwich shop in the 1970s. As Maurice’s, it supplied GE and other downtown workers with a steady lunch venue for 20 years; now Maurice’s thrives at other area locations. I applaud the ambition of owner Viroj Chompupong, whose Bangkok Thai restaurant on Wolf Road opened in early 1994 and perseveres successfully.

Although there has been some needed refurbishment inside, the old wood paneling and beer-hall wall paintings wisely have been preserved, artifacts of a vanished Schenectady era, an incongruity that enhances the restaurant’s ambiance.

Another shrewd move was to emphasize the bar, both in design—it’s new to the structure, occupying the space once sporting a sandwich assembly line—with one of those trendy martini menus to allow putative grown-ups to lace their booze with candy.

Service was eager and enthusiastic, slowed only slightly by a waiter who confessed it was his first day. Staffing the floor, especially in midweek, is an art akin to necromancy; I only wish more restaurants would err on the side of overstaffing.

Although we didn’t visit for lunch, the menu suggests that you can whet your appetite for Thai fare quite reasonably, with curry dishes running $7 (add $2 for the shrimp, scallops or duck), and an item called Crazy Bowl for $7 as well.

The Crazy Bowl is also a dinner feature. Built around noodles or fried rice, it’s available with chicken, beef, pork or shrimp for $11, seafood for $15. This category includes Pad Thai, a classic compote of noodles, fried egg, peanuts and tofu.

Drunken Noodles adds basil curry paste and bamboo shoots for what’s promised as a sobering influence; pineapple fried rice sweetens a rice mixture with peas, carrots, onions and the titular fruit.

A favorite with our table was yellow fried rice—thus is it named—with chicken, a stir-fry seasoned with yellow curry and also sporting a vegetable variety.

Among the other entrées, a standout was the tofu roll ($11), in which a cylinder of bean curd mixes with glass noodles and vegetables, a garlicky sauce finishing the flavor.

Because I was in the mood for spicy dining, I enjoyed a bowl of tom yum shrimp ($3.50), a clear soup with a sweet chili boost and plenty of the promised shrimp swirling within.

If you stop by for cocktails only, sample some of the appetizers. Each is a generous $4 plate, one of the best of which is called Thai ravioli, as good a name as any to distinguish it from the usual run of pork-stuffed dump-lings, served with a sweetened soy sauce.

Chicken satay is another classic, long strips of skewered meat that are grilled and served with a peanut sauce. Thai dollars are patties of chicken and vegetables, served with a sweet-and-sour sauce as well as an eensy-weensy bowl of cucumber salad, and spring rolls come with either shrimp or vegetables along with vermicelli noodles. The ones we tasted were greasier than they needed to be, usually a sign of cooking oil that’s not hot enough.

Tasting your way through an unfamiliar cuisine is a joy when the standards are as high as this restaurant generally maintains. The most adventurous of American chefs are borrowing all they can from other cultures, so it’s a treat to join them in this culinary globe-trotting. Good for the palate, good for the spirit, and a sure way to keep boneheaded American imperialism from consuming you.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

The Hudson Valley Council of Girl Scouts will hold its 17th Annual Trefoil Awards Gala at The Desmond in Colonie from 7 to midnight Friday, April 8. The evening includes a champagne reception, seafood presentation, hors d’oeuvres, an elaborate stationed buffet and delicious desserts made with Girl Scout cookies. Also taking place are the Trefoil Awards presentation, silent and live auctions and dancing with Jill Hughes and Friends. Tickets are $100 per person. For more info, call Sharon Smith at 489-8110, ext.105, or e-mail ssmith@girlscoutshvgsc.org. All proceeds will benefit the programs and services of the Girl Scouts, Hudson Valley Council. . . . Chef Yono Purnomo is chairing a celebration of Asian cuisine at 3 PM on Sunday, April 10, at Franklin Plaza in Troy. The event benefits the tsunami relief fund and SUNY Cobleskill’s Culinary Arts program, and brings together four prominent chefs to provide a five-course food-and-wine pairing. Chef Thomas Gisler of Cooperstown and Saratoga is Swiss-born but worked for years at resorts in Japan. He will prepare the appetizer and soup course. TV celebrity Joe Poon of Philadelphia will prepare a Chinese dish, while Purnomo will prepare a dish with an Indonesian influence. The dessert will feature the culinary skills of chef A. Jayapal (AJ) of the Edison Club in Rexford. The menu will be paired with wine by sommelier Dominick Purnomo. Faculty and students of SUNY Cobleskill will assist in preparation and serving of the dinner. All involved are donating their time and talent. The five-course food and wine pairing has several levels of sponsorship beginning at $75 per person. Required reservations may be made by calling 234-5425. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland (e-mail: food@banilsson.com).


We want your feedback

Have you eaten at any recently reviewed restaurants? Agree or disagree with B.A.? Let us know what you think...

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* E-mail address not required to submit your feedback, but required to be placed in running for a Van Dyck Gift Certificate.

What you're saying...

I very much enjoyed eating dinner at Daniel's at Ogdens. You review described my dining experience perfectly. This wasn't the case with Pancho's. I much prefer Garcia's or Lake View Tavern for Mexican fare. I agree that a restaurant can have an off night so I'll give the second unit on Central Avenue a try.

Mary Kurtz
Castleton

First, yes I miss the star ratings, bring it back. Second, I haven't had a chance to visit Poncho's yet, but I especially like reading the reviews.

Pat Russo
East Greenbush

I would travel to Amsterdam to this restaurant - it's not that far away. People traveled from all over to eat at Ferrandi's in Amsterdam. From his background, I'm sure the chef's sauce is excellent and that is the most important aspect of an Italian restaurant. Sometimes your reviewer wastes words on the negative aspects of a restaurant. I'm looking forward to trying this restaurant - I look forward to Metroland every Thursday especially for the restaurant review. And by the way Ferrandi's closed its Amsterdam location and is opening a new bistro on Saratoga Lake - Should be up and running in May. It will be called Saratoga Lake Bistro. It should be great!

Peggy Van Deloo
Schenectady

So happy to see you finally made out!! Our experiences have always been wonderful, the staff is extremely professional, the food subperb, and the atmosphere very warm and comfortable. Let us not forget to mention "Maria" the pianist on Friday and Saturday nights.

Charlie and Marie
Michaels Restaurant

I have been to Michael's several times and each time I have enjoyed it very much. The food is delicious and the staff is great. Also, Maria Riccio Bryce plays piano there every Friday and Saturday evening, a nice touch to add to the already wonderful atmosphere. It is also easy to find, exit 27 off the thruway to 30 north for about 5 miles.

N. Moore
Albany

Wonderful!

Elaine Snowdon
Albany

We loved it and will definitely go back.

Rosemarie Rafferty

Absolutely excellent. The quality and the flavor far surpasses that of other Indian restaurants in the area. I was a die-hard Shalimar fan and Tandoor Palace won my heart. It blows Ghandi out of the water. FInally a decent place in Albany where you can get a good dinner for less than $10 and not have tacos. The outdoor seating is also festive.

Brady G'sell

Indian is my favorite cuisine available in the area--I loved Tandoor Palace. We all agreed that the tandoori chicken was superior to other local restaraunts, and we also tried the ka-chori based on that intriguing description-delicious.

Kizzi Casale
Albany

Your comments about the Indian / Pakistani restaurants being as "standardized as McDonald's" shows either that you have eaten at only a few Indian / Pakistani restaurants or that you have some prejudices to work out. That the physical appearances are not what you would consider fancy dancy has no bearing on the food. And after all, that is what the main focus of the reviews should be. Not the physical appearances, which is what most of your reviews concentrate on.
A restaurant like The Shalimar, down on Central Avenue, may not look the greatest, but the food is excellent there. And the menu has lots of variety - beef, lamb, vegetarian, chicken, and more..

Barry Uznitsky
Guilderland



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