Bangkok 54, South Arlington

My disagreement about Bangkok 54 with local critics, as well as with many diners, goes back over ten years, and continues to this very day. At the risk of losing readership, I urge people who think that Bangkok 54 is a superior Thai restaurant to set me aside as a restaurant critic, and to rely on other peoples’ opinions instead. I say this not to be belligerent, but to be consumer-friendly.

Twice recently, I have retried Bangkok 54, and I’m sorry to say that my opinion has not changed much at all. That said, it seems to be bustling with a healthy business, and I’m happy that diners seem to be enjoying it. Note that they’re open 7 days a week, from 11 AM to 10 PM (11 PM on Fridays and Saturdays), and that they deliver in a limited area with a minimum of $20 and no delivery charge.

Thai Curry Puff ($6.95) is something I occasionally enjoy at Thai Noy and Bangkok Golden, and also an appetizer that could easily be purchased pre-made rather than formed in-house, although I have no particular reason to believe this, other than that this is the type of thing that wholesalers tend to make. A vegetarian appetizer, filled predominantly with potatoes and a mild, sweet curry spice, these Three Little Puffs are served here with a typically thin, sweet cucumber-pickle “relish,” and the innards are a bit darker, and slightly sweeter, than your standard version, perhaps due to a bit of tamarind – or they may even be sweet potato. These are worth ordering, and plenty for two to share, although you’ll need to slice the third one down the middle.

Tom Ka with Chicken ($4.25) is a respectable version of this staple soup, which remains a consistently good value from restaurant to restaurant. Bangkok 54’s is a bit on the sour side (a good thing, given that it’s cut with coconut milk), but other than that, it’s a very standard version of Tom Ka Gai, perhaps with a touch more fish sauce than some – I adore this soup when a restaurant serves it in that torus-shaped aluminum soup bowl with a flame in the middle (does anyone know the name of this vessel?)

“That should be illegal” was the response from my friend when I told her that Bangkok 54 didn’t offer Pad Woon Sen, which is her favorite Thai dish. However, Spicy Noodle Salad ($7.95) came fairly close. Offered as a room-temperature appetizer, it’s cellophane noodles with minced shrimp and chicken, seasoned with “exotic spice and cilantros,” and without seeing the description, my friend mentioned that it came with quite a bit of cilantro. The first thing I noticed about this is how much liquid was in it, and that liquid seems to be predominantly lime juice, as this is one of the more lime-focused dishes I’ve had in quite some time. This is by no means Pad Woon Sen, but it’s an enjoyable appetizer that’s more the size of a small entree, although it contains only one or two shrimp; there’s a fair amount of minced chicken, however.

Spicy Catfish Curry ($13.95) had disks of somewhat dried out catfish, in a red curry sauce, with baby corn, Thai eggplant, snow peas, and young peppercorns (two bunches in the dish). While this dish had some potential, and the amount of catfish was fairly generous, it came across as an extremely generic, middle-of-the-road entree which could have come from most any Thai restaurant.

54’s Spicy Duck ($15.95) consisted of deep-fried strips of duck meat, quite dry, sauteed with fresh chili, garlic sauce, and crispy basil leaves. While this is the only item on Bangkok 54’s menu that is marked, “Must Try!” my companion – who has a budding interest in the culinary arts but is not an expert – did not recognize the meat as duck. This, despite the heavily battered strips being quite hefty in size. This is a dish that needs to be had shortly after preparation, as the garlic sauce quickly attacks the crispiness of the fried batter.

My favorite dish of the two visits, by far, was the Yellow Chicken Curry ($12.95), which I enjoyed so much on the first visit that I ordered it again on the second – on both occasions, it was worth ordering, and even a bit better on the second visit as the chicken was more tender. It’s slightly on the sweet side, and contains cubes of fairly dry, boneless chicken meat, brought to life in a mild, yellowish kari curry paste (an Indian-influenced Thai curry that is close in spirit to a Massamun dish) – it comes with an optional order of Roti ($2), a griddled bread which really isn’t optional, as it’s fantastic with this entree – cut into little wedges in the shape of pie slices, it takes this good dish, and turns it into a very good dish. It’s going to be difficult for me not to order this the next time I try Bangkok 54.

After these two visits, I cannot justify saying Bangkok 54 is anything more than a decent Thai restaurant, dressed up to appear a bit more formal than your typical strip-mall mom-n-pop Thai. Two fairly important reviews from over ten years ago appear to be allowing this restaurant to ghost surf, but you should not be swayed into thinking Bangkok 54 is anything more than “good” – I cannot rank it in Italic, and so it must remain as before.

This entry was posted in Restaurants, VA and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.