One of the most uncomfortable things about a reviewer’s job is to judge a Love It/Hate It restaurant, about which totally respectable diners nurse heartfelt yet opposing views. (New Rochelle’s Spadaro’s comes to mind.) Knowing that our opinion will offend one camp, it is nevertheless the reviewer’s job to admit that, yes, you look fat in those jeans.
So it was with Bangkok Spice, a modest storefront Thai in Shrub Oak, which has earned the loyalty of several respectable foodies. To be fair, there is much to like about Bangkok Spice. It is an inexpensive, Thai-inspired restaurant in a locale where Thai food is scarce. Its digs are pleasant, and its service is friendly and brisk. Bangkok Thai’s Singha beer is cold, and its kitchen emanates a warm, spicy scent. Most important, this Thai menu is as familiar as your neighborhood Chinese restaurant’s, with all the satays, pads, soups, salads, and curries that one might want for casual, midweek meals.
Done well, this is the sort of food that I crave, but I have been spoiled by Sripraphai, the Thai Mecca in Woodside, Queens. In comparison, Bangkok Thai’s food feels culturally diffuse (its menu subhead is “Fine Thai and Asian Cuisine”), as exemplified by wan avocado salad with iceberg lettuce ($5.95). Bangkok Thai serves Japanese-style miso soup ($1.95), and a very Trader Vic’s “sweet and sour” entrée. It costs between $9.95 and $24.95, depending on your choice of meat, tofu, seafood, or vegetables, and promises a ’50s-era tiki mélange of pineapple, carrots, and bell pepper. This is a Thai menu with feet planted firmly in pan-Asian standards
A “Bangkok Crispy” ($5.95), touted as fried ground shrimp and chicken with a special Thai sauce, arrived as tiny skewered dumplings slashed with orange, syrupy plum sauce. The dumpling skins had so desiccated in the fryer that they’d fused onto the skewer, making the dish nearly impossible to eat (and unrewarding, once you managed it). Tom kha soup ($4.95), the Thai-American standard—of chicken, galangal, mushrooms, and coconut milk—landed perfectly flat and watery, with no zing from fresh lime or chili.
Pad kee mow with beef ($10.95) was marred by an overabundance of thick sauce; its noodles were cooked until filmy and broken, and its limp stir-fried vegetables were oily. Our favorite main—though by no means a winner—was a kang massaman with beef ($12.95), where too much sweetness and oiliness were present, but so were some of the heady spices that mark this standard.
But here’s the thing: Bangkok Spice is not trying to be Sripraphai. It’s a modest, north county restaurant in an area with few Thai competitors. Its menu offers some favorites that you might find at your corner Chinese or sushi joint, and it’s open seven days a week until 10 pm (which is a boon for late commuters). Bangkok Thai slings bargain lunches specials that promise value for $7.95 (and include soup or salad, rice and entrée)—sadly, locals will be sacrificing for convenience and may want to travel down the line for better food.
1161 E Main St, Shrub Oak
Hours: Every day, noon to 10 pm. Appetizers: $3.95-$6.95; entrées: $9.95-$24.95; dessert: $3.95-$6.95.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦—Outstanding ♦ ♦ ♦ —Very Good
♦ ♦ —Good ♦ —Fair