Let's be honest. My husband and I are newcomers to Thai food. We cannot, therefore, judge the Bangkok Oriental by whatever generally accepted standards there are for this Southeast Asian cuisine.
But I can tell you that we liked the place, and the people who ru it, a lot. And we liked what we ate. If this is Thai food, lead us to it.
The Bangkok Oriental is located inauspiciously in a stri shopping center behind a Denny's on Ritchie Highway in Pasadena. The location is one of the few drawbacks.
Inside, it is quite attractive: open, light, pretty, relaxing.
Our waitress, though not the most proficient English speaker was pleasant, worked hard, and left us with a good feeling. So did the maitre d', a genuinely interesting and interested person whose advice we sought several times.
He assured us, for instance, that we shouldn't worry about th fieriness of this food. That ominous ''*'' marking beside items sometimes indicated lots of seasoning; other times, it indicated lots of other, though not fiery, spices.
His advice was right on. During a lengthy after-dinne conversation, he said that many customers new to Thai tastes find the flavors more complex, more interesting, more satisfying than what they are used to eating in Chinese restaurants.
We sure did. My husband and I often find Chinese food blan and unsatisfying. From that point of view, the Bangkok Oriental was a surprising, splendid glimpse into Oriental tastes we had not encountered.
Oh, there was heat. But plenty of taste too. So much taste tha the heat was almost pleasant . . . except for the whole pepper my husband discovered as he polished off my shrimp dish. Had we not been in a public place, I'm sure fire would have shot from his nostrils, his mouth, his ears. He confined his reaction, however, to bulging eyeballs and pleas for water.
We began our excursion into the tastes of Thailand with Wil Mushrooms ($4.95) and the soup of the day, Egg Noodle with Shrimp and Scallops ($2.95).
The mushrooms, with sherry, were at once sweet and spicy, an a wonderful beginning.
The soup was the most bland part of our meal, yet it wa delicious in its subtlety. With two shrimp and two scallops amid thick noodles and thin, it resembled won-ton soup, but was more complex in tastes and textures.
My husband chose a Roasted Bell Pepper and Eggplant Sala ($5.50) with herb dressing. He enjoyed the true, strong taste of eggplant. I had a good tossed salad that came with the meal.
For entrees, we chose Baked Shrimp ($12.95) and Boxing Ring Chicken ($8.50). We tried to order a vegetable saute, but our waitress discouraged us, saying we had already ordered plenty.
The shrimp, served in a covered casserole over translucent noodles, were a bit bland and the noodles slightly sweet, but I liked the combination. And although this dish had one ''*'' in front of it, I did not find it too hot. But then, it wasn't I who found the pepper.
The accompanying fish sauce was, as we had been warned pretty spicy. Yet my husband, not given to intense heat, found the flavors compellingly good with his entree.
His grilled chicken was served with a pepper sauce that was red. It nearly took my head off, but my husband liked it too. By itself, the chicken was good, but not extraordinary. With it came a melange of stir-fried vegetables and fried rice.
both found the rice, served in lovely blue bowls, wonderful. Somehow more satisfying and flavorful than what we had become accustomed to in Chinese restaurants.
We should have stopped here.
Not that the desserts weren't good. My husband's Custard o Coconut Cream (a typical, we were told, Thai dessert at $2.25) and my Chocolate Torte with Two Fruit Sauces (a French touch at $2.95) were delicious.
Our bill, with two drinks and two large glasses of wine, came t $59.
After such filling desserts, we left just a tad too full. We also lef feeling lucky to have discovered such a nice restaurant, staffed by very nice people. It's probably safe to say that, after the Bangkok Oriental, Thai food will find its place among our favorite ethnic cuisines. If only we had discovered this place, and this food, earlier.
Hours: Monday-Thursday, 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.; Friday, 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m.; Saturday, noon-11 p.m.; Sunday, 4-10 p.m.
AReservations: "We like to know you're coming," said the maitre'd
Credit cards: Major credit cards accepted.
Handicapped access: Accessible.
Smoking: Separate areas designated.