Since it was hit by lightning, Bangkok Pavilion has never been the same.

Strike Two 

Since it was hit by lightning, Bangkok Pavilion has never been the same.

Page 2 of 3

I don't, either, but I wasn't about to order a dish to remind me of my dreary romantic life unless it was one of the vegetarian concoctions called "Where's the Beef!"

I did find a smidgen of well-done Paradise Beef on a combo platter called, inexplicably, Three Amigos. It's one of Bangkok Pavilion's house specialties, with another description far too alluring to pass up: "Its flavor will unleash a taste sensation that will break the taste barrier." After seven years as a full-time restaurant critic, I was more than ready for that!

Unfortunately, Three Amigos didn't unleash anything except disappointment. The Fire Chicken was dry, the beef was chewy — I couldn't taste the "chef's special flavor sauce" at all — and the Mammoth Jumbo Shrimp wasn't just an oxymoron but also downright bland. I added a new resolution to my growing list for 2007: I will no longer order dishes with any kind of "special sauce."

Carol Ann liked her meal a lot. She'd finally opted for Sweet Ginger Chicken, and the fragrant fresh ginger and onion made her almost giddy. "It's really very good," she told me.

A few nights later, I returned with Franklin and Lou Jane. The dining room was bustling with several large groups of native Thai diners. "That's a good sign," Lou Jane whispered. "It means the food is probably very authentic."

She felt less assured of that when she saw items such as Lovely Chicken and Robin Hood Ribs on the menu. And her mood darkened when she picked up a piece of greasy brown Thai toast from the House Combination Appetizer Plate. Once again, the cooking oil was too old. She looked askance at the whole jumble of deep-fried Shrimp in a Blanket, spring rolls and crab Rangoon. "This is stuff for people who are not really into real Thai food," she said.

She might as well have been talking about Franklin, who was delighted to see that the menu had a barbecue category that included a half-rack of baby-back ribs. They turned out to be tender and succulent, marinated in yet another "special sauce" — I tasted some nuoc nam fish sauce and garlic in the mixture — with the meat nearly falling off the bone.

Our other entrées weren't as successful. The classic noodle dish pad Thai tasted flat and sticky; the Roast Duck Darling wasn't crispy, as the menu promised, but chew and vaguely soggy. "Darling, maybe," Lou Jane said after taking a bite, "but not endearing." She was even more scandalized by the big ball of steamed white rice brought out for us to share with our dinners. It had been sitting in a steamer too long, and the grains of rice were actually dry and slightly crispy.

Unexpectedly, my favorite dining experience at Bangkok Pavilion was the lunch buffet, a real bargain at $6.95. The steam tables in the buffet corner were filled with fresh pad Thai that was vastly superior to the version I'd eaten with Lou Jane and Franklin. There was also a fine yellow curry with chicken and potatoes, steamed mussels that my fussy lunchmate Ned said were the best he'd ever eaten, and spicy bits of pork with green beans.

Sadly, though, on the night of my dinner with Lou Jane and Franklin, the only real highlight was the homemade coconut ice cream we shared for dessert. A decade ago, this restaurant topped its satiny ice cream with one or two soft, translucent lychees, as it might be served in Bangkok. Now, Chouang tops the frozen confection with neon-red maraschino cherries, as it might be served in Branson.

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