Once you’ve had Asian, you’d be hard pressed to return to Caucasian. Asian food, that is. Thai food, in particular, has a vibrancy and unique marriage of spices that makes American cuisine appear rather flaccid. The only other times when Caucasian surpasses Asian is when you unluckily enter a place where steam table glop melts into the architectural details of the walls containing it, one of those places where you know the grill hasn’t seen the bright side of a scrub brush. Otherwise, you’re pretty much in for a barely decent treat, barely edible eats.
I enter Bangkok Bay Thai on a Sunday evening, not knowing what to expect, except maybe to curb my narrow-minded opinion that Asian is all the same (meaning good unless drastically butchered in non-Asian hands. My expectations are further dumbed down when I behold this lonely outpost of Asian indulgence in the middle of God knows where, whose funky white walls with forest green trim, red, yellow and blue booths bring to mind a twisted game of Twister on opium. But hope is rekindled when I settle in my booth: the menu is all Thai, the servers Thai, and the few customers a good mix of Asian, Mexican, and Caucasian. Thankfully, there’s no steam table.
Studying the menu, the first thing I note is the lack of variety and the overkill of curry-flavored dishes with spiciness spanning the color spectrum from mild to mouth on fire. There are a few scatterings here and there of Chinese-influenced goodies (sweet and sour pork/chicken/beef/shrimp, American broccoli with oyster sauce), filet-of-fish samplers with variations of chili and curry colors. Tom Yum soup, Pad Prik King, and pineapple fried rice are all there, but Mei Krob is noticeably absent.
I start with the chicken satay, four heavily curried and overdone pieces of grilled chicken on skewers à la chicken kebabs. It’s served with an oily and sugary peanut sauce and a sweet and spicy cucumber and onion sauce. The curry taste looms large like the gates of Mordor, bland in my opinion but perfectly acceptable to Americanized Asian palates like that of my dining companion, my half-Asian, hamburger-devouring son
Next up is the beef with chili and mint leaves. While the portion sizes are slim, the dish itself is the perfect representation of Thai done right—clean, bright and light (even with the meat). The herbal infusion of mint tempers the heat that wells up in the back of the mouth from the hidden spices. Our waitresses tell us it is one of the more popular entrées, and rightfully so.
What is Thai without sweet Pad Thai, the national staple of fried rice noodles, fried eggs, chicken, bean sprouts and tofu slices in fish sauce, red tamarind and chili oil? Pad Thai is as Thai as apple pie is American, except our serving is overdone; the noodles sticky and heavy on the palate. While overcooked, the dish is still edible and comforting to the American Asian palate.
For dessert, I am presented a choice Thai ice cream, fried bananas, or freshly made fruit juice. I choose the fried bananas. Theirs is not the street fair or amusement park version; a sliced banana is coated with shredded coconut, wrapped in wonton skin wrappers, deep-fried and served with pancake syrup dusted with sesame seeds. Oddly enough, the pancake syrup complements the fried banana.
Bangkok Bay Thai may lack in overall imagination and quantity, but it does provide home-cooked Thai fare at decent enough prices. No steam table glop here.
Bangkok Bay Thai Cuisine, 725 W. 6th Street, Corona, (951) 735-2568. Open Daily: Mon.–Sat. Dinner for two, $34. MC, V