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I had no inkling that Boda was anything but yet another Thai restaurant to arrive in Portland, a city already awash in mediocre Asian eateries. There were some earlier reviews that I read but none opened the door wide enough to reveal what was happening inside this very authentic Thai kitchen.
I also wasn’t prepared for the high-style, slick interior presented in Boda compared to other Thai establishments whose idea of décor is to don a Disney World mystique splattered across the Mekong. Boda is more polished concrete walls shimmering in flattering levels of soothing gray light emanating from op-art colored plastic fixtures.
Boda is on the peripatetic end of Congress St. where the different worlds around Longfellow Square seem to mingle with no questions asked. There’s the incredible Japanese noodle house, Pai Men Miyake (more on that another time), the infamous Joe’s Smoke Shop, The King of the Roll, whose storefront I find quite annoying, Portland’s only x-rated retail outlet, and the soon to be opened Petite Jacqueline, which promises to send Portland’s Gallic cravings atwitter.
Boda is owned and manned in the kitchen by two Thai natives, Danai Sriprasert and Natttasak Wongsaichua, nicknamed conveniently Dan and Bob, who also own the Green Elephant
, a vegetarian Thai-flavored eatery a few blocks away. Who knew they owned a novel vegetarian restaurant too? Certainly not me who hasn’t ventured into one since the macrobiotic craze of the 1970s.
What Boda offers—beautifully—is very authentic street-vendor food, satays being one of their specialties, and typical dishes of home-style cooking. If this is considered their everyday fare, then take me to the haute cuisine table too!
On my first visit the adjoining table had just been served an eye-popping first course. It turned out to be a spectacular looking dish of quail eggs cooked in a round cast-iron baking dish in which each egg was in their own little slot. The crispy edges were probably achieved by putting them in a very hot skillet, baked for an instant in a hot oven to preserve perfect yolks, which emerge with a glistening accoutrement of chopped scallions and soy sauce.
Of course I had to have these. When they arrived at our table we downed them practically in a gulp as one would devour a platter of perfect raw oysters. This is a must have dish.
The rest of the menu is comprised of other tapas, satays, soups, a few salads, and the entrees.
We chose several options from the tapas list that included a highly flavorful pork satay and a dish of pineapple cubes with ground spiced pork served on typical blue Asian soup spoons topped with a dab of chili sauce. Again, both dishes were novel and special.
For an entrée that night I had the lamb curry, a small portion that was good but not memorable; it lacked the guts that a well made Indian curry would have.
Another time I thoroughly enjoyed my entrée of crispy duck swathed in a five-spice honey glaze and served with Jasmine rice, Asian greens, and a pungent soy sauce. This was perfection.
Desserts at Asian restaurants are never a high point unless you like sticky fruits and the like. But I did try the rice pudding made with black rice. It suffered from a heavy, gloppy, unappealing sticky black sauce, which might have been a good contrast to the shaved almonds on top, but not very tasty or appealing. An acquired taste, perhaps.
There is one fault worth mentioning. I noticed on subsequent trips to Boda that if you’re seated in the front room, instead of the more spacious back room and bar, you’re apt to get stuck at one of these heavy wooden tables whose thick legs compete with the thick legs of the chairs as well as your own legs looking for space which just isn’t there, and you have to sit side-saddle. Either go to the back room or ask for a larger table with more leg room.
The restaurant serves until 1 AM, and I hear that many area chefs who’ve closed shop by ten run to get a great cocktail and their fix of the best Thai food in Portland.