Perfectionism from Thailand and Indonesia

March 19, 2004

OUR first encounter with the new west side Bangkok restaurant took the form of a phone call. One Tico Times colleague, a confirmed vegetarian who should write a book about the mishaps she’s endured in her quest for veggie cuisine in Costa Rica, called the Thai-Indonesian restaurant to see what was available.

“Yes, eggs are okay,” I heard her say, catching only her side of the conversation. Good sign, we decided after she hung up. They know what questions to ask.

Peter Polstra and Likit Boonyang, long-time veterans of the San José restaurant scene, are back as of late last month with a new dining option in Sabana Oeste, and they are proffering up the same Southeast-Asian cuisine their fans have come to know them for.

DESPITE a dozen or so years in Costa Rica, Boonyang remains true to her homeland in central Thailand, and that attention to detail we first came upon in the phone call is evident throughout.

One example: the ginger-like root galanga is a feature in many Thai dishes. But the lack of availability outside Southeast Asia means many Thai-restaurant chefs substitute ginger itself. Not Boonyang.

“It’s not quite the same with ginger,” she says, explaining that she grows authentic galanga in her garden, and obtains any missing ingredients for the restaurant’s dishes from Thailand. “It wouldn’t be Thai without it.”

And the result in my coconut chicken soup was a flavor distantly resembling ginger, one I wouldn’t have been able to identify. But Boonyang was right: It wouldn’t have tasted the same with ginger substituted.

MAIN courses range from ¢1,750- ¢3,950 ($4.10-$9.30), and the trilingual (Spanish/English/Thai or Indonesian) menu has plenty to choose from. The mildly spiced Indonesian chicken is a gentle introduction to the cuisine from this part of the world.

The chicken with cashew nuts and beef with musaman curry pack more of a kick, but Polstra and Boonyang do adapt their menu for the local audience by offering the option of less spice in their dishes. (The fire is a bigger issue in the curry-based Thai plates than in less piquant Indonesian cuisine.) But that’s the only concession they make.

Vegetarian options include pad thai, pineapple fried rice and tofu or egg in green curry. All curry dishes, vegetarian or not, are prepared in coconut milk, and come with a side order of steamed vegetables and jasmine rice.

LUNCH and dinner menus are the same, but a couple of appetizers can make a full lunch – the portions are filling – if you want something light. Try the vegetarian spring rolls (¢850/$2), which come with peanut, spicy and sweet-and-sour sauces, accompaniments to many of the dishes on the menu. Skewered beef or chicken satay, (¢1,950/$4.60); coconut soup with chicken (¢1,450/$3.40); or a green salad with peanut dressing, (¢950/$2.25) could round out a light lunch.

Desserts (¢500-900/$1.20-2.10), include an Indonesian cinnamon-and-anise cake, green-tea ice cream, coconut custard and fried bananas. Thai iced tea and ginger lemonade complement the standard selection of beverages.

The converted house makes for a roomy, but intimate enough space for a restaurant, with just 10 tables, plus three more in a secluded mezzanine area. Inverted parasols shield the ceiling light fixtures and keep the illumination soft. A few wall hangings and soft background music evoke Southeast Asia without overdoing it.

BANGKOK is 400 m. west of Pop’s in La Sabana, across from Amnet and next to the UCIMED medical university on the old road to Escazú. It is open Tues.-Fri., noon-3 p.m. and 6-10:30 p.m.; Sat., noon-11 a.m.; and Sun. noon-8 p.m. All credit cards are accepted. Phone 296-6110 for reservations or info.

 

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