Bangkok Cuisine offers exceptional Thai food.

By L.G. GORDON Daily News Food Critic

Thai food is known for its evocative aromas and subtle blends of spices and herbs. At Bangkok Cuisine the air is perfumed with citrus scents and a hint of coconut, garlic and chilies – flavors that characterize the taste of Thailand. This sensory experience sets the stage for what follows. Those who haven’t visited Bangkok Cuisine in recent years are in for another treat.

Thanks to extensive renovations and redecorating, this cozy downtown restaurant is now also a feast for the eye. Thai paintings, attractive tapestries and statuary adorn the cozy restaurant, sitar music plays softly in the background. Vases containing real orchids grace the linen-topped tables.The result is upscale but not stuffy. (“Civilized Siamese,” according to a friend who can’t live without his weekly fix of Tom Kha Gai.) Based on his hearty recommendation, I did indeed order the soup, which is one of Thailand’s best known culinary delights. But first, my guest and I decided to relax over drinks and give the kitchen’s spring rolls a test run.

We started off with two imported brews, Singha ($3.75), a product of Thailand, and China’s Tsingtao ($3.50). Both were refreshing. While sipping, we munched on Bangkok Cuisine’s exceptional spring rolls (three for $4.25). Fried but not greasy, the rolls were stuffed with cabbage, mushrooms, carrots and chicken and served with a powerfully good dipping sauce. Tom Kha Gai soup ($3.75), for the uninitiated, is an excellent example of the joys of Thai cuisine. This was one of the best versions I’ve ever tasted. Based on coconut milk concentrate and savory chicken stock, it’s a silky smooth blend of flavors: fresh lime juice, galanga (Thai ginger), lemon grass, white and green onions, fish sauce, sliced white chicken breast and a smidgen of crushed red chilies. It’s a good thing. And so is the less exotic but nonetheless tasty won ton soup with greens ($3.50), which is redolent of garlic. Other appetizers include Goong Mun (fresh shrimp cakes seasoned with kaffir lime leaves), chicken satay and Tom Yum Talay (mixed seafood simmered in ginger, chili and lemon grass). Entrees ride the range from dinner salads to noodle or rice creations to poultry, beef and seafood selections. Fresh seafood, in fact, is a house specialty. And not surprisingly, because a large percentage of the Thai population is vegetarian, many meatless dishes are available.

Unlike Indian curries, Thai curries are cooked quickly, and seem lighter and fresher. Coconut milk is often used to cut the pungency of the spices. Because some like it hot, some not, diners choose the degree of heat, from 1 to 5. (According to the menu, this means “from quite mild to searing.”) I picked 3 for my platter of chicken curry ($14), and it was just right. (But I do like sizzle.) Topped with crisp-tender vegetables and peanut dressing, the curry was beautifully presented. In Thailand, virtually everything is mixed with rice. After filling up on appetizers, I couldn’t finish the meal and doggie-bagged my leftovers. My guest opted for garlic shrimp ($16). Large shrimp were steamed with lemon grass and came with those same good vegetables and a healthy dose of garlic. On future visits, I’d like to sample Emerald Scallops in a robust jalapeno curry with fresh asparagus. And baked pineapple rice, a creation that includes chicken and shrimp.

Classic Thai cuisine combines flavors that are familiar from Indian, Chinese and Japanese cooking. But when done properly, Thai dishes are lighter and fresher than many of their counterparts in other countries. Bangkok Cuisine does it right.

Desserts are earmarked for special occasions. In keeping with this tradition, Bangkok Cuisine offers a limited selection.

Fried bananas lead the list, followed by coconut ice cream and a few other offerings. If you go for dessert, go for broke and order a Thai sundae, combining the bananas and ice cream.

Throughout our dining experience, service was gracious and efficient. Our waitress paced the meal perfectly and was always ready to refill a water glass or replenish the rice bowl.

Note: This restaurant sells spices, sauces, seasonings, woks and makes up gift baskets. It also prints recipes and offers cooking tips and more on its web site.

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