The petite and attentive server greeted us at our table. We were in an elevated mood. This was our first dining experience in 14 quarantined months.
From a variety of 24 appetizers, Guest chose the do-it-yourself Chicken Lettuce Wrap ($8): sautéed chicken, lettuce with diced pineapple, bell peppers and Thai basil, served with an iceberg lettuce leaf for wrapping.
I needed an infusion of fresh vegetables, and Bangkok Kitchen boasts that they serve them fresh and local where possible. My appetizer, Spicy Basil ($13), consisted entirely of fresh vegetables sautéed in a light sweet-and-sour sauce. Traditional stir-fried chili, garlic, onions, carrots, bamboo shoots, green beans and Thai basil were stir-fried in a gentle sauce, which did not dominate the vegetables. Diners could choose to add a protein, anything from tofu ($13) to a half duck ($22.95), with a $1 upgrade for brown rice. But this straightforward dish required no further adornment to be spectacular.
One of the aspects of the menu that I appreciated is that the diner can choose the level of the peppery heat of each dish — and the chef will get it right. I recognize one can find this feature in other Asian venues, but I’m always pleased that the restaurant takes the trouble to offer the choice.
Bangkok Kitchen offers nine different curries with 12 different additions and five different degrees of heat. If I’ve done the math correctly, that’s 648 variations. Preference for brown rice instead of white more than doubles the choices. Without going through all the combinations and permutations, there are about 150 offerings under a number of headings such as Signature Rolls, Sushi Appetizers and Rolls, Sashimi, Salads, Soups, Stir-fried Entrees, Bangkok Chef Special and Desserts.
From the 150 calculated choices, Guest requested Massaman Curry Shrimp. The menu described Massaman Curry as Thailand’s “famous stewed curry” with sweet potatoes, onions and peanuts, with your choice of meats and fried shallots. Easily enough for two ample meals, not a spoonful was brought home.
Thai massaman curry is a blend of sweet and spicy in a rich, creamy sauce with a tint of lime. Low on the Elander Curry Heat Scale, the chili peppers have not yet manufactured their own heat when ripened, the spices are gentler in flavor and coconut milk adds sweetness. Guest requested “mild” for his Massaman Curry with (medium) shrimp ($15.95) and was pleased with his choice. He felt the excessive heat would mask the subtle flavors. With too much hot spice, it is difficult to enjoy the artistic blend of taste and textures the chef has created.
When I was in college, we took my meat-and-potatoes dad out for dinner to a Chinese restaurant to give him a little “culture.” The restaurant was warmly old-school, where one had to go up a flight of stairs to reach the dining room and the young children of the owners bused the tables. Dad ordered his usual at a Chinese Restaurant: steak and french fries. We gently admonished him about, “When in Rome … ” but he loved his meal and, later in life in a daring move, began to order Asian-style butterfly shrimp.
Today, I smiled about his stubborn resistance to Asian food as I ordered a rack of marinated and grilled lamb chops. They were small and perfect, five tender chops, every one a winner.
Each dinner was accompanied by a crisp salad with a slightly sweet dressing, a red and black bowl of miso soup and a snowball of white or brown ($1 upcharge) rice.
It is unusual to see such an extensive menu in an Asian restaurant. It was not the variety or even the local produce that made this venue so special, rather it was the manner in which the staff interacted with the food. I would have loved to have sampled some of the other items: fried soft-shell crab ($8), Tom KHA ($5.95), King Curry Fried Rice with a half duck ($22.95).
WHERE: 1207 Troy Schenectady Road, Latham; 518-608-4809; bangkokkitchenalbany.com
WHEN: Tuesday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m., Friday, 11 a.m.-10:30 p.m., Saturday, 11 a.m.-10:30 p.m., Sunday 11:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m.
HOW MUCH: $60.85 without tax or tip
MORE INFO: Parking area in front, handicapped accessible, credit cards accepted, takeout, pickup, gift cards, sushi, stir-fry, bar, lunch