It’s unfair, really.
Putting Boda in the same category as the rest of Portland’s Thai restaurants is like equating grandma’s from-scratch Sicilian with greasy-good college town pizza. It’s a matter of ethnic authenticity.
The Thai food at Boda is simply – well – unAmerican.
And in this case (unlike Arizona’s hideous new immigration law) – it’s a good thing.
Boda’s menu doesn’t cater to the sweet-craving American palate the way 95% of Thai restaurant menus do. I challenge you to find another Thai restaurant in Portland (or in Maine for that matter) that serves bitter melon soup stuffed with minced pork.
Oily and aromatic with sesame overtones in a savory broth, the soup provoked my tastebuds like little I’ve tried before or since. It awoke areas of my tongue I didn’t know existed! A remarkable balance of flavors, it played the role of appetizer to a “T” – kicking my hunger into overdrive.
And it killed with a crisp martini.
We started the meal with the soup and an obligatory grilled skewer (the house specialty). The list ranged from pork belly, to king oyster, to asparagus wrapped in bacon. Not much of a skewer fan (I just don’t see the point, really), I found the shiitake version a tad underwhelming. The teriyaki seasoning tasted predominantly of soy and the nicely roasted mushrooms just seemed lonely on that skinny stick. The accompanying pickled onions were tasty, but did little to perk up the dish for me.
I turned back to the soup with its acerbic bouillon and spoonfuls of bean thread noodles and was happy as a clam until the entrees arrived.
My tilapia with herbs in a banana leaf conjured memories of mountainous rice terraces and thick jungles. Earthy, like a cauliflower, the fish was dense in a way that tilapia rarely is – buoyed by a bed of cabbage, shallots and hearty mushrooms. Cooked in a bevy of spices (chili, Thai basil, lime leaves, lemongrass, lemon basil, garlic) — it was heaven for the senses. Aromatic steam released the moment I pierced the leaf and it wafted through the rest of the meal. I alternated bites of meaty fish with balls of sticky rice dipped into a puddle of spicy lemon basil broth. Sheer perfection.
While not at the level of my fish, Adam’s Thai chicken wings were fun to eat (gotta love messy finger food) — piping hot and doused with chile. Each bite into the spicy carmelized skin revealed hints of vinegar and fish oil in equal amounts. An accompanying pile of uninspired daikon and carrots lacked a strong pickled flavor, however, and did little to cool the wings’ heat.
Full at this point, I began to rethink my anti-skewer stance and wish we’d leaned more toward the lighter dishes and tapas. Fried taro sticks, Thai Northern-style sausage and Kanom-krok quail eggs all sounded just brilliant. Ah well, next time.
Boda’s atmosphere blended mod and rustic. Rough pine tables and floors mixed with cement walls and platinum and glass drop lights. Service was earnest and knowledgable. Our server was dead right with each insight and suggestion.
My one quibble with the environment is the large television hanging over the bar in the back dining room. Tuned to a reality show and set a bit too loud, IT was very American indeed.
Blogger’s Note: This post is the sixth in a series of Thai restaurant reviews being conducted — and posted on the same day — by a group of Portland bloggers and writers. For other reviews, check out Portland Food Map.