Beyond hot at the well-named Bangkok Delight

April 25, 1996|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,SUN RESTAURANT CRITIC

Bangkok Delight, a Thai restaurant in Columbia, changed hands in the past year and was taken over by Pornpilai Boonn, a doctor of pathology turned mom turned restaurateur. With that background, I wondered, could she know anything about cooking?

The answer, not to keep you in suspense, is yes.

Until I had dinner at Bangkok Delight, I didn't realize there was a category beyond hot in Thai food. You wimps go ahead and order your food mild, medium or hot. But at Bangkok Delight there's a fourth choice, "Thai native."

This must be when the top of your head actually bursts into flame. Being a wimp, I find that with Thai food even mild sneaks up on you after awhile. So when the waitress asks what kind of curry sauce I want with the spaghetti squash filled with mixed seafood curry and filet of flounder, I order the yellow curry instead of the green, brown or red. (The names reflect the degree of heat).

I mention this dish first because it belongs in the Thai Food Hall of Fame. Half a spaghetti squash is filled with tender bits of shrimp, scallops and squid in a light, fragrant sauce. The squash soaks up the flavors of the curry exquisitely. On top is a large curl of beautifully fresh flounder fillet, moist and sweet, in a delicately crisp batter.

I always seem to have one guest who does something stupid like order the surf and turf in a Thai restaurant, and to add insult to injury it always ends up being one of the best dishes on the table. In this case, the turf is strips of fork-tender filet mignon, and the surf, fat shrimp -- both with a wonderful char-grilled flavor. Its delicately sweet red chili sauce sounds more explosive than it is.

The kitchen also makes a fine peanut sauce with hints of ginger and garlic. It adds zing to the juicy little morsels of chicken on skewers (satay) and is the mainstay of the appealing stir-fried chicken and broccoli dish.

Not every dish reaches these heights. Pad thai, stir-fried rice noodles, are a bit greasier than I'm used to; and translucent little steamed dumplings stuffed with turkey are beautiful but taste of nothing more exotic than, well, ground turkey. The lemon grass and coconut milk soup is filled with fine chunks of fresh salmon, but it's a bit sweet for my taste. But vegetarian spring rolls are superb, crisp and not a bit greasy; and juicy mango slices with sweet sticky rice are the perfect dessert. All in all, there's not much to complain about.

This good food is served in a charming dining room -- don't be put off by the strip mall exterior. The decor has a tropical feel, with lots of green and wicker, and a pot of African violets on each table. The ceiling is hung with colorful upside-down paper parasols.

As for the service, the waitresses are warm, friendly and intelligent -- and very busy. Alas, Bangkok Delight is no longer one of those undiscovered gems. It's become popular enough that it could use another waitress.

Pub Date: 4/25/96

Bangkok Delight

8825 Centre Park Drive, Columbia

(410) 730-0032

Hours: Open Monday through Thursday 11: 30 a.m.-3 p.m., 5 p.m.-9 p.m., Friday till 10 p.m.; Saturday 5 p.m.-10 p.m.; Sunday till 9 p.m.

Credit cards: Major credit cards

Prices: appetizers, $3.50-$5.75; entrees, $6-$16.95

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