Is it just me, or is Thai food in NYC starting to all blend together into an incoherent, blurry amalgam of “sweet coconut this,” or “spicy curry that?” I live right near what I like to call “Thai Town,” a strip of dozens of Thai restaurants that run up 9th avenue from the upper 30’s to the upper 50’s in Hell’s Kitchen. One or two joints stand out there as being different and good, but largely it’s all the same Americanized, overly sweet, unbalanced bullshit but with a different name slapped on the facade outside. The interiors even start to look and feel the same. Dim lighting, bamboo everywhere, and a subtle yet obnoxious house music beat relentlessly thumping in the back of your brain for the entirety of the meal. I know you’ve experienced this, and no matter how much X you drop beforehand, it just won’t work while you’re trying to fucking eat. Is this the perception of Thai culture and cuisine that we have here in America, to which Thai restaurants feel they must cater in order to draw in customers? If so, we need to change it, ASAP.
Stepping into Bangkok Cuisine on the upper east side was a refreshing change from that cookie-cutter Thai experience.
The space is bright, elegant and classy, with a gorgeous emerald Buddha as the centerpiece and focal point of the restaurant. It almost has a museum-esque quality to it, with high luxury style marble under foot and ornate chandeliers over head.
Hap, son of the chef and owner, invited me in for a press meal. He runs the joint and takes pride in the decor choices he made when designing the restaurant a year ago. He did a great job. I knew just from the decor alone that I was about to get into something very different and unique here when it came to the actual food.
This place is a perfect spot for a date, but it also has appeal to everyday neighborhood diners who want a great meal in a beautiful setting. It doesn’t hurt that the prices are very fair as well. During lunch hours (even on weekends) you can score a three course meal for just $9 or $10. That’s pretty much unheard of these days.
The bar is nice too, with cocktails inspired by Thai spice and herb flavors, and fresh exotic fruits.
Okay so let me get to the food. Hap suggested we try some of their best and most popular items, to get a good feel for his dad’s cooking style and the diversity of the menu.
First were the chicken lettuce wraps, with minced curried chicken, carrots, celery, shredded beet and cashews.
These were super light and healthy; a great way to start the meal without going heavy. The curried chicken was a nice change-up from what I usually expect in a lettuce wrap. It was almost like a Thai or Indian taco, if you will. The beets added a nice contrast of color with that pop of red, and the iceberg lettuce added a great textural element of crunch to the tender minced chicken.
Next were the BBQ pork skewers. These were my absolute favorite of the starters.
They were sweet, spicy, sticky and super tender. The spice/sweet balance struck here was right on the money, and the sticky and tangy sauce on top really fueled my addiction to these. With fresh cut herbs sprinkled over the top of these warm skewers, the air all around the table was filled with some incredible, mouth watering aromas. When you come here, these are absolutely a must-order.
Hap also brought out a small sample size of two other popular apps for us. First was the Thai crepe, a thin, wide, flat, homemade steamed rice noodle wrapped around chicken, shallots and peanuts.
This is similar in form to Vietnamese banh cuon, which my wife and I love. The flavors here are a bit different though, as they are sweet rather than tangy, and more peanut-forward than the Vietnamese dish. These are nice and light, and very healthy.
The second sampler app was the five-star Thai dumplings. These may look like Chinese dumplings, but they taste very different.
They have Thai-spiced chicken and shrimp inside, and are served with a sesame and soy dipping sauce.
We tried three entrees from the special chef’s tasting portion of the menu, all at Hap’s suggestion and based on popularity and his personal preferences.
The first was this stuffed salmon with panang curry.
First off, this was absolutely stunning to look at. It’s pan-roasted salmon with crab meat and shrimp stuffing, green beans, bok choy, peppers, carrots and onions in a thick and rich panang curry sauce. The sauce here, again, displays Bangkok Cuisine’s amazing ability to properly balance sweet and spicy. One could easily just spoon the curry up and eat it like a thick soup. And the salmon itself was cooked to perfection, with what was essentially a really good shrimp and crab cake added in the mix. It’s no wonder that this is one of their signature and most popular dishes. Absolutely delicious.
Our second entree was volcano duck.
This is a crispy, boneless half duck served atop tempura carrots and celery, and topped with a fluffy egg and homemade chili flake sauce (pad pong karee). Just to beautify the plate even more, there are a pair of fried lotus root slices on top. The dish consists of traditional Thai ingredients that have been treated in non-traditional ways. For example, the duck is prepped and cooked in a notably French style, with butter under the skin to get a certain level of crisp before finishing, as opposed to just frying the fucker to holy hell. I haven’t seen or tasted anything like it here in the city. The duck itself was amazing. Tender, flavorful and with super crispy skin. And the fluffy egg on top lent a flavorful soft texture to offset the crisp of the duck.
The final entree was a true test of Thai food mettle: Pad Thai.
But this is no ordinary Pad Thai. This is seafood tom yum inspired Pad Thai. The sautéed rice noodles are adorned with shrimp, squid, scallops, mussels, eggs, peanuts, carrots, bell peppers, scallions and bean sprouts, all deftly tossed with just the right coating of a hot and sour lemongrass “tom yum soup” flavored sauce. Again; a very unique take on a classic Thai dish. It reminded me of the way this noodle dish my wife and I had in Hoi An, Vietnam captured the characteristic flavors of pho in a sauce for a non-soupy noodle dish.
Each bite of seafood was cooked just right. All tender, and nothing overcooked, whatsoever. What really got me, though, was the perfectly dressed noodles. Lots of times Pad Thai comes to you all watery and soupy. I hate that! This had just the right amount of sauce coating the noodles, and that helped make the noodles slightly sticky, so that all the spices and accompaniments clung to the noodles just so. This made it easy to pick up with chopsticks and stuff down my throat. If Pad Thai is your go-to dish when eating Thai, you won’t be disappointed with this. It brilliantly marries two very popular Thai dishes (Pad Thai and Tom Yum), executed perfectly.
Unfortunately at this point we were too full for dessert. But I will definitely be back to try the whole fried snapper, lamb chops and drunken noodles, for sure. They looked great on the menu.
I highly recommend this place, and even if you’re not regularly spending time on Manhattan’s upper east side, it’s certainly worth a trip up to the neighborhood.
1586 2nd Ave
New York, NY 10028