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Thursday, March 3, 2011

Bangkok House: The Area's Best Thai Food?

Restaurant boasts homemade curry paste, extensive list of entrees

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Not that long ago, it was a rarity to find a Thai restaurant in this area. The first was Thai Royal, which opened in the early 1980s. Today there are many choices, with some better than others. Perhaps the best option is the Bangkok House, which has been in business for a decade.

Though it is located in an ordinary strip mall, the Bangkok House boasts an enticing interior. Thai artifacts and handicrafts are on display, but the restaurant never feels cluttered.

Buffet tables are available, but even lunchtime visitors should ask for a menu. This is where the real action is located.

Thai food has a complexity of flavors—found in a wealth of ingredients like lemongrass, Thai basil, kaffir lime leaf, and galangal—that ranges from sweet to tart and, of course, spicy. The best Thai cooking finds a balance of these flavors, and this is where the Bangkok House excels.

Tom yum gai ($3.95-$13.95) is the spicy and sour shrimp soup found on every Thai menu. The version here is good. Instead of the tried and true, however, try the beef kow-low soup ($2.95-$12.95). The broth is filled with tender slices of beef and fresh bean sprouts, and the soup arrives topped with cilantro leaves. The broth is intensely aromatic, with the unmistakable fragrance of galangal commingled with hints of hot pepper. This is a stellar soup.

In my opinion, Thai salads make or break a Thai restaurant. Bangkok House offers a version with spicy squid ($7.95). Do not be afraid to order anything "hot" here—the level of spice tends to be mild, and the ultra-fiery papaya salad named som tom is not on this menu. The squid salad is full of fresh ingredients, including red onion and tomato and chopped scallions, cilantro and lemongrass. The sauce is sweet and spicy. The centerpiece is the squid, which is barely cooked and nearly as soft as butter—perfectly prepared.

The beef larb ($6.95) is a bit spicier. The meat is mince and lightly cooked (often it is cooked rare or even eaten raw). Along with the tartness of lime juice, the key here is the liberal use of roasted rice powder, which adds a pleasing crunchiness to this dish.

There is an extensive list of entrees, the priciest of which is a whole red snapper ($23.95). Most dishes run $10 to $15.

One mild dish is beef ginger ($11.95), tender slices of meat with straw mushrooms, onions and scallions in a dark, sweet sauce that is fragrant with ginger—a fine choice for those who want to avoid too much spiciness.

When it comes to Thai curries, most restaurants turn to commercially prepared curry pastes for the convenience of it. But homemade curry pastes are so much better. Try Bangkok House's shrimp green curry ($14.95). It's a homemade paste—and the difference shows. The shrimp are served in a bowl with bamboo shoots, bell peppers and fresh Thai basil. The curry has a coconut milk base that adds subtlety to the spices. This is simply exceptional.

Complement the meal with a Singha beer, tropical cocktail or even sake. There also is a wine list that is large for a Thai restaurant.

Remember to move beyond the lunch buffet mentality at Bangkok House. Why settle for tepid pad Thai or tame volcano while a menu with beef larb and shrimp green curry awaits?

Bangkok House

4698 S. Whitnall Ave.

414-482-9838

Closed Mondays

Handicap Accessible

bangkokhouserestaurant.com

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