Bangkok Café
Arlington Heights, IL

I hate going to a restaurant with great anticipation and getting ravaged by mediocrity.

Now, I am no arbiter of taste, but I know what I like. And I don’t think I’m too picky. But since the owners of our favorite Thai restaurant packed up and moved to California, Xena and I have been looking for a replacement.

There are only two Thai places in our hometown; both of them are okay, but not great. Actually, the one we loved is actually not really okay anymore. We don’t go there, now.

So, whenever I get out of town I look for Thai food. And my main source is Urbanspoon. Well, you have let me down twice now on the Thai front.

I went to the Bangkok Café in Arlington Heights with great anticipation. The reviews were fantastic. I walked in at 12:30 on a Saturday. There was only a four top in the whole place. I probably should have turned around at that. But I had my tongue set on Thai food.

I don’t like writing poor reviews. I know there are people who joy in the negative turn of phrase. But I realize that writing a poor review means that I have paid for and consumed a poor meal. I take no joy.

But here it goes.

I should have known when the tea arrived. While it’s not always a tip off, a hot tea pitcher with a bagged tea does not usually bode well. I want the loose leaf in an Asian restaurant. The tea also tasted more of the water than the tea. I really don’t want to taste water at all, much less over the taste of the tea.

I ordered the Spring Rolls because I love those things. Paper thin, diaphanous rice paper embracing crisp veggies, cellophane noodles, cilantro, maybe some tofu or shrimp. I love them. And, I have to tell you. I was stoked when these rolls showed up, because they were gorgeous. They were cut and displayed like maki sushi with bright orange julienned carrots and a huge sprig of cilantro. They were sitting on a wash of orange plum sauce. Beautiful.

Then I tasted them. They were actually dry. Dry as in difficult to eat dry. The “paper-thin” wrapper was not paper thin, and it was triple wrapped around the roll. It felt and tasted like they didn’t soak the wrapper enough. The vegetables within were medium diced, not julienned.  The large diced tofu was dry. The plum sauce was more sweet than flavorful. And —sacrilege! — instead of scallions they used large slices of raw red onion. It is possible the first time I have ever not finished a plate of spring rolls. It was something I might imagine producing the first time I tried spring rolls at home.

The soup, which came with the meal, was kind of unbelievable. Mostly because I can tell you exactly what was in it. Chicken broth, large chunks of red pepper, sliced carrot, barley. No herbs, no spices. It was the kind of thing I might quickly whip up when I’m sick. Except, I would at least add some cilantro. One of the things I love about Thai food is that I can rarely name everything that I taste in it. This was a very sad moment for me.

The entrée, however, boded well. It looked fun and smelled fantastic. I ordered Rama Noodles, which is a peanut sauce based chicken with spinach and carrots over very broad noodles. It smelled fantastic. And the noodles that I could see around the sauce had been lightly fried —almost always a good thing.

But, alas, again I was hammered with disappointment. The peanut sauce, which was lacking any solid peanuts or even peanut matter, looked, tasted — and more importantly felt — like it came from a Trader Joe’s bottle. I know this because I have recently used such a bottle to make dinner.

And the noodles…oh the noodles…which looked so promising…. I don’t know how they managed it, but half of them were crispy, the other half was gummy. Gummy! So sad.

I once had a date with a gorgeous woman. I asked her out because she was gorgeous. I guess she accepted because she thought I was funny. It was one of the worst, most painful dinners I have ever had. It turned that not only was she unrelentingly uninteresting, but she expected me to do all the work that night. She actually said to me, “Say something funny.”

She told me she liked shoes and bags. “No just purses, either.” She didn’t read, because nothing she read was ever interesting.

Honestly, I can’t even remember her name. Mandy, Mindy, Monica? I can’t remember. I did not call her back. She did not call me back.

This lunch reminded me of her.