Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A Taste of Thai on the Vineyard: Bangkok Cuisine

For many fans of Thai food, the two words bring about a world of flavors that are so often associated with ingredients like peanuts, cilantro, lime and fish sauce. Familiar dishes that have made their way onto menus throughout the world of cuisine are Crab Rangoon, Pad Thai and Tom Yum soup. 
Thailand and the surrounding countries, for example Cambodia, Vietnam and Malaysia, have perfected the art of combining the four basic tastes of cuisine— sweetness, sourness, bitterness saltiness— into one delectable dish that is bound to make an impression to bring about yearnings for more dishes to imitate it. Take part in eating any meal from any of these or other eastern cuisine and prepare to indulge in a harmonious integration of these four flavors. 
Lately, I find my days have been filled with walks up and down the streets any of the three main towns here in Martha's Vineyard —Edgartown, Vineyard Haven and Oak Bluffs— making mental notes of where to treat my taste buds once I have a fairly steady income to cover dining expenses. Meals on the island have been averaging about $10 to $15 a plate which can quickly add up once you consider a beverage, $2 to $3, and a tip, variable upon the sort of establishment. It also doesn't help that I believe in good karma and that good service deserves a good tip. 
Almost every establishment has a menu posted either in the window near the entrance or in a display case to entice window shoppers and hungry pedestrians to stop in for a bite to ease their hunger pains. I have read about goat curry, sauteed sweetbreads and of course claims of the best lobster rolls on the island. Im challenging myself (and anyone else who will be on the island) to try and eat at each restaurant— that I can afford mind you —at least once. My stomach and I are up to the challenge and have five places tackled and have just a hundred or so ahead of me. I'll be on the island long after the summer visitors have packed their bags and turn their keys in the doors of whatever place they call 'home'. I have time on my hands and hopefully a bottomless stomach to fill. 
Today I visited Oak Bluffs and invited a new friend of mine to join me. He accepted my offer and we rendezvoused outside the restaurant about four o'clock at Bangkok Cuisine, since they closed from 3:00 to 4:00 p.m. between lunch and dinner menus. I had previously passed by and read the menu, conveniently placed in the window to entice me as I window shopped for souvenirs to buy everyone on my long list before my departure from the island in October, and a soft-shell crab salad lured me in. 
When I returned to meet my friend, he kindly opened the door for my and we were both welcomed by the aroma of savory and salty concoctions wafting from the kitchen. You could almost see into the kitchen as you walk in— an ingenious move on the owners part to attract customers to their restaurant. Our server sat us near the front windows— another ingenious move to attract customers to their restaurant. 
I hadn't been to a Thai restaurant since the Organ Cafe was bought and re-opened as Thai Delight last year. The Organ Cafe used to be Organ's only landmark putting it on the map between Las Cruces and Alamogordo, N.M. It was sold and re-opened by a sweet, old, thai gentleman that I found to be quiet, reserved and camera-shy when I reviewed his restaurant for the local e
ntertainment guide, Pulse. I ordered a plate of noodles and a Thai chai tea that afternoon and remember enjoying every bite and every sip that was set in front of me. 
Today I ordered the soft-shell crab hot and spicy salad and a Thai iced coffee. The iced coffee came out in a tall flute and resembled a world-recognized glass of Guinness Stout poured with the perfect amount of thick,frothy,coffee-with-crea-colored head. If my mom would have been there sitting across from me instead of my friend, she would have described it as 'sexy'. And it was sexy. 
The coffee was sweetened just right, not to much cream and still strong enough to ward off any bit of fatigue that I generated from my walk around the petite hills of Oak Bluffs. I have never been disappointed by a Thai or a Vietnamese iced coffee— or even iced tea for that matter. I highly recommend them. 
Our plates came out and we were both equally impressed by the salad, that we both proceeded to take photos of it. The presentation was beautiful. The salad was served in a single leaf of iceberg lettuce that had been delicately removed from the head so as not to tear any holes in its thin membrane. There were two soft-shell crabs divided and deep-fried in a light batter. the salad was a fresh medley of green beans, cabbage, carrots and fried peanuts. Also on the plate were perfectly carved flowers cut from carrots. 

The salad was tossed in a simple dressing of what I could only imagine was a combination of rice wine vinegar, fish sauce, sweet chili sauce and a few other components I couldn't identify— but there was no oil. It was everything I had imagined it to be; it was reminiscent of Thai meals that I've had in the past. I could taste the four basic flavors; the sour tinge from the vinegar and the saltiness from the fish sauce both equally matched by its partner, the bitterness and the sweetness. 

Eastern culinary artists, young and ancient, are also very conscious in the textures that they provide us while we eat. For instance, when you are eating a bowl of steaming, brothy Pho, you have the soft noodles and crunch of the bean sprouts and other vegetables. They were consistent in ensuring that you had complimenting balances between the different tastes and textures of each meal. The soft-shell crab was a perfect example of such. The batter was crispy and the inside soft and easy to chew, the carrots were marinated in the dressing and the cabbage and green beans were still crisp to the bite.

The meal was thoroughly enjoyable. I drank every drop of the iced coffee and ate every piece of crab, unfortunately saving no room for all the salad. I must admit it was delicious, but I will only return for the Thai iced coffee since, it was my number five on lists of places I've dined at on the Vineyard. 

1 comment:

  1. I like the changes you made in this one friend.