Monday, September 12, 2005

Bangkok Taste - Santa Ana



Unlike North Hollywood or Thai Town in L.A. proper, we in O.C. have to hunt for our Thai food. Thai restaurants are scattered around our fair county like Easter eggs in a spring garden.

Finding out where the good ones are requires that you know the right people who know of the right places. Thankfully, all the right people, like Mealcentric, Diamond Dog, and Curt of Chowhound, have shown me where to look.

Not too long ago, Curt introduced me to Zesty Thai at a food court nestled in an office park in Irvine. I am now addicted to their Pad See Ew, which I think is better than those I've had at Krua Thai, Thai Nakorn, and Lotus of Siam.

Yes, their Pad See Ew is that good.

Find it funny that I found it at a food court? Well, that's the thing about Thai food in Orange County -- it's all about knowing where to look, no matter how unlikely the location might sound.

So it came as no surprise when Mealcentric and Diamond Dog clued me into Bangkok Taste, a proverbial hole-in-the-wall inexplicably located next to a Big Lots in Santa Ana, of all places. They said it was worth a try, and they were right.

The restaurant is small. It's a single room no bigger than a typical Chinese take-out joint with an order counter and a small square opening behind the register where plates of food are slid out from the kitchen. But the restaurant is well lit, bright, and inviting.

Overhead, there are mini faux crystal chandeliers which sparkle. Above, two fluorescent light panels are covered by decorated stained glass, giving the illusion of skylights. The walls, decorated with framed artwork intricately crafted of beads, are themselves made of elegant faux-stone. The owners made the best out of the space they were alotted and succeeded.

The night we dined, we were alone in the restaurant. It was the just the two of us, the server (a twenty-something Thai gentleman), and the cook (presumably, his mom). Sitting there in the empty restaurant, we heard her wok clang and our food sizzle as twangy Thai music wafted through the air.

After a while, the door jingled as a customer came in to pick up an order he phoned in. As he left, he held his parcel of food aloft and said jokingly to the Thai gentleman, "You should try this place, they're great!"

I chuckled.

The food arrived shortly thereafter. We started with the Tom Kha Gai, chicken soup flavored with lime juice, coconut milk, galangal, bruised kaffir lime leaves, sliced lemongrass, and cilantro. Instead of straw mushrooms, which is typically used in this dish, it was criminis. Although not as meaty or sultry as the straw, the criminis were cooked well so it worked.

The morsels of dark meat chicken were plentiful and had a pleasant and tender chew. The one thing I noticed was lacking was the heat of chili, which wasn't a problem to me. But the dominant flavor of the soup; lime juice, could have been tempered with a little bit of sugar or perhaps more coconut milk. Nonetheless, it was a refreshing start. The tartness of the soup primed my palate for the meal to come.



The Mussel Omelette came next. It was wide and circular; a disk the size of a small pizza. Beaten egg and glutinous rice flour envelop chunks of briny mussel meat in this crispy, eggy, and chewy creation. The bed of bean sprouts added some freshness and a cooling touch to the dish, while a sweet and sour chili sauce tied it all together. This was almost as perfect as Lotus of Siam's version, but not as crispy. But I loved this dish, and I'm positive I'll order it again on my next visit.



The Pad See Ew was a dish of flat rice noodle stir fried with beef and Chinese broccoli. Bangkok Taste's version is a lot wetter than others I've tried but still well-flavored. My one and only gripe, was that the broccoli was undercooked. It tasted a little on the raw side actually, which meant that it didn't work in unison with the other ingredients as much as I would have liked.

The perfect Pad See Ew, I think, occurs when all the components; starch, protein, and vegetable, dance in lockstep in a perfectly choreographed balance of tastes and textures. An undercooked piece of broccoli can easily shatter this harmony. That isn't to say that this wasn't a good plate of Pad See Ew, just not as great as my new benchmark for this dish; Zesty Thai's.

So now I've got another Thai restaurant to put in my rotation. Over time, in more visits, I hope to discover more of Bangkok Taste's Easter Eggs in its own menu.

Bangkok Taste
(714) 532-2216
2737 N Grand Ave
Santa Ana, CA 92705

16 Comments:

At 4:23 PM, Anonymous Kirk said...

Hey Elmo - Liked that picture of the omelette - if I had a fork and knife I mighta' started cutting up the CRT! I enjoyed the fact that both you and Mealcentric have done recent posts. Makes the different, but similiar, very interesting!

 
At 11:05 PM, Blogger Seth Chadwick said...

Elmo,

I know how much you adored Lotus of Siam in Vegas, so I am inquiring about some more input as to why Zesty Thai's Pad See Ew was better than LoS' version.

Thoughts?

 
At 7:15 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Kirk,

I thought it was funny that it was dishes made with egg that both Mealcentric and I liked best at Bangkok Taste.

Seth,

Good question. And I'm happy to answer!!! ;-)

I found Zesty Thai's Pad See Ew to have everything that I love about the dish, which is mainly "wok-hey", that smoky flavor that comes from a hot, well-seasoned wok. Added to that Zesty Thai's version is very bold and assertive. The seasonings and soy penerate so deeply into each noodle strand that it registers and excite every taste receptacle on my palate when I eat it. The noodles are also dry, no gravy or "wetness" at all, so it's almost like the Chinese Chow Fun (that stir fry), but without the grease. I think Zesty Thai truly has Pad See Ew (and also Pad Kee Mow) down pat.

LoS's version, if I recall, was more subtle. It had a good flavor and I liked it, but the noodles hadn't soaked up all of the flavors of the soy, garlic, etc. The color of the noodles were paler in comparison as a result. Although some may like this style (which seems to be the way it is made at most Thai places I go to), I prefer Zesty Thai's version.

 
At 9:01 AM, Blogger MEalCentric said...

Glad you gave it a shot. That omelette is next on my list for sure (as is Zesty Thai)

 
At 10:20 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Mealcentric,

Thanks for the rec! And I'd be interested to know what you think of both.

 
At 6:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Being new to town, I am interested to hear what other Thai recs you have. Also, what do you think about Thai Bros. in Laguna?

 
At 8:08 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Anon,

Welcome to the neighborhood, and thanks for visiting my blog.

There are Thai places scattered around Orange County. Some of the most notable ones are Thai Nakorn in Garden Grove and Renu Nakorn in Norwalk (not really O.C., but close).

In Irvine and Tustin, the ones I've tried are Thai Spice (a take-out joint with okay food), Thai Kitchen (decent but very Americanized), and Thai Specialty 2 (so-so, but expensive). There's also one or two more I haven't tried, and one of them being Thai Bros. Where is that one BTW?

Zesty Thai, which I mention a lot in this post is only open during lunch and most of their steam table offerings aren't good. But their pad see ew, is the best I've had thus far.

 
At 7:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm glad to see that others have discovered Bangkok Taste restaurant. It is a great little and very clean.

 
At 4:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bangkok Taste is probably the best Thai around, The red curry dishes are fantastic, I like the red with bamboo shoots...it is hard to get through the menu at this place because you have had a particular dish that is soooo good it becomes difficult to change, even though all the other dishes are as great.
this is truly a diamond find for the palate.oh and a must have is the Thai Ice Tea...wow!

Lance

 
At 4:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tried it last week. Liked it too.

 
At 6:50 AM, Anonymous cee said...

Hello from Thailand,
If you feel like trying to make Pad See Ew at home, here's my recipe direct from Bangkok:

Pad See Ew Recipe

/Cee

 
At 5:32 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

HI everyone!

THANKS for commenting. AND CEE! Thanks for the recipe. But the link doesn't work!

 
At 2:10 AM, Anonymous cee said...

Hey,
Does the link work now? I'm not sure why it was not working. Let me know if you can't get it!

/Cee

 
At 9:21 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Cee,

It works now! Looks like an awesome recipe. Thanks!

 
At 1:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am also a pad see ew aficionado... if you ever find yourself in Brooklyn, you must go to Amarin Cafe in Greenpoint. I have tried pad see ew in just about every other Thai joint in NYC, and none of them compare. Its almost worth flying out from LA. Okay, maybe theres a quite a few reasons to fly out from LA to NYC.

 
At 9:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Okay I stumbled onto your blog for the first time today, and I have to say I have been enjoying reading it, but honestly! I eat occasionally at Bangkok Taste because it's near my job, but it is way down the list of what I consider to be good Thai restaurants. The last time I ate there the food was actually pretty awful. You can definitely do better.

 

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