Diner: Mindful Art

Dining on sushi and such at Bangkok Bistro

With a dual love for sushi and Thai, it's rare that I can combine them in a single meal. A recent experience at Hyde Park's Bangkok Bistro convinced me that I should do so more often.

I recruited the male contingent of my family for this review. My brother loves all things spicy. My dad is the sushi expert and has been whining that I've yet to include him on one of my excursions, which he sees as ultra exciting. ("So, we're not supposed to let on that we're doing a review?" Yeah, dad, it's like James Bond but with food.)

Bangkok offers an a la carte sushi menu and a traditional Thai menu. Deciding to do the communal table thing that I think works best with Thai, we started with Crab Rangoon ($5.25) on our server's recommendation. Though I suspect more on the Americanized side of the Thai plate, the cream cheese and crabmeat tucked neatly into thin pastry triangles was to die for, as my dad's trademark moan confirmed.

Every bite was plunged into sweet-and-sour dipping sauce, and I'm glad I didn't understand it was a duck sauce until after I'd eaten it. (If you're a full-blown vegetarian, or only eat fish, you'll probably want to make that clear before you order).

We passed on soups and salads in favor of a Sushi and Sashimi Platter ($21.95), which came on a round wooden platter that made the colorful fish look ready to jump off the table and into your mouth. Tuna and Salmon Sashimi (raw fish, no rice), Tuna Nori Rolls (fish and rice, wrapped in seaweed) and varied Nigiri Sushi (rice topped with fish) were a nice assortment. The fish was fresh and odorless, and everything appeared to have been assembled just before we got it. Sculpted wasabi (Japanese horseradish for clearing the sinuses), a flower-like mound of pickled ginger (for cleansing the palate) and geometric carrot sculptures (just pretty) underscored the attention to detail that makes eating sushi a mindful art, and a special occasion for those more accustomed to the shoveling sort of feeding that sharp, metal utensils encourage.

We felt cleansed and not overly full, so our two entrées were just right to appease our remaining appetites. Medium-hot Mango Curry ($13.95) with rice was an exotic blend of sweetness and spice. Orange-pink mango curry broth, simmered in coconut milk, was swimming with vegetables and shrimp (chicken also included, though we asked for it be left out). I don't like green peppers in many dishes, but loved them here. Their smoky flavor and crunchy, not overcooked, texture was perfectly countered by soft mounds of fleshy mango.

We also tried Siam Noodles ($9.95), flat rice noodles stir-fried with vegetables and a choice of chicken, pork, tofu, shrimp or scallops ($2 extra for shellfish). We stuck with vegetables — my brother refuses to have tofu so much as touching anything on his plate. The brown sauce was nutty and sweet, but pleasantly understated, with broccoli, mushrooms, baby corn and sugar snap peas all soaking up the flavors.

We finished with Green Tea Ice Cream ($3.25), a Thai dessert staple I've never ventured to try. I like green tea and I like ice cream, but the dessert didn't change my mind that sweet endings are unnecessary when eating Thai.

Beckoning my return are Soft Shell Crab with Curry ($16.95) and Bistro Ginger Sauce with tofu and vegetables ($9.95).

Like many casual ethnic restaurants, food precedes atmosphere at Bangkok Bistro. Sleek silver cocktail tables were unoccupied during our visit, and a modern, semi-circle welcoming stand seemed a little out of place. The walls are not without the oddly placed dried flower wreath alongside authentic Thai wood-carved lamps. Nevertheless, I found myself comfortable. In the room where we dined, mismatched, unassuming wooden tables left the focus on the food. And aromas wafting through the dining room, as well as attentive and efficient service, softened any rough edges in the visual environs. ©

Go: 3506 Erie Ave., Hyde Park

Call: 513-871-0707

Hours: Lunch: Monday-Friday 11 a.m.-3 p.m.; Dinner: Monday-Thursday 3-10 p.m., Friday 3-10:30 p.m., Saturday-Sunday 4:30-10:30 p.m.

Prices: Moderate

Payment: Visa or MasterCard

Red Meat Alternatives: Many dishes allow you to choose between meat, seafood, tofu or veggies

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