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Photograph by Carlie Statsky
Thai One On: Ornate and serene, the dining room at Bangkok West puts guests in another frame of mind.

Go West, Thai Fan

Full flavor and enchanting ambience make Bangkok West in Aptos a worthy destination.

By Denise Vivar

In Asian culture the art of placement is taken very seriously. In Hindi it's called vaastu and in Chinese we know it as feng shui, but the idea is the same—the harmonic placement of things in one's environment can impart health, happiness and prosperity. Recently I was taken by the focus on the energy of place at an eatery in our own back yard, Bangkok West in Aptos. Guests arrive through one of three entrances that open to a lush garden courtyard in front of the restaurant. The pathway meanders through the greenery in a shift away from the outside world to a more present state of mind. My friend Rebecca and I stopped to admire the spirit house, a shrine in the form of a mini temple, perched on a pedestal in the garden. On the shrine were offerings of fresh fruit, flowers, incense and drink to the guardian spirit.

After a pleasant round of the garden we entered the front lobby, which keeps the traffic of guests arriving and leaving separate from the dining room—a thoughtful and elegant setup. As our hostess escorted us into the dining room, I felt like we entered a palace. The room was aglow with a warm light that played off the dozens of intricately carved and gilded sculptures and mirrors. On the wall to the left is another small shrine, this one honoring the king and queen of Thailand.

All the dinners on surrounding tables looked inviting, and there were so many tempting dishes on the menu that we had a hard time narrowing down our choices. The pineapple fried rice ($10.95) served in the shell looked wonderful, and I was curious about the George Ow noodles ($10.95), but in the end I shied away from the carb-laden entrees. Rebecca decided on the honey spare ribs ($10.95) and I opted for the grilled salmon special ($16.95). To add vegetables to our meal, we also chose the sweet peas with carrots and onions in oyster sauce ($6.95) and the mixed vegetables in curry sauce with tofu ($6.95). Our dishes arrived all at once and the visual was arresting, indicating an eye for presentation on each plate.

The short ribs were marinated in a honey sauce and then barbecued. Without the sauciness of a typical barbecued rib we were able to pick each piece up with our hands sans stickiness. They were particularly meaty, and while not especially tender, they weren't too tough either.

The salmon fillet wore a sunny mantle of peach and mango "salsa"—julienned strips of fruit speckled with red pepper. The salmon was cooked slightly more than both Rebecca and I prefer, but the fruit added both moisture and a welcome sweetness to each bite. We had ordered steamed white rice ($1) but we really enjoyed the small mound of curried rice that accompanied the salmon. Note to self: get the full order of curry fried rice on the next visit.

The most impressive dishes on the table were the vegetables. Both plates held a vibrant array of tender crisp morsels, each in its own sauce. The "sweet peas," better known to us as snow peas, were accompanied by whole straw mushrooms, sliced carrots, tofu and onion. The mixed vegetable dish sported a spectacular variety with broccoli, carrots, straw mushrooms, onion, baby corn, red and green pepper, celery, zucchini, bamboo shoots, napa cabbage and tofu. The yellow curry sauce was fairly spicy despite our request for a mild version, but quite tasty nonetheless.

On the dessert menu on this night was the homemade coconut ice cream offered with apricot bread pudding ($6.95). I couldn't resist this curious pairing. It turns out apricots and coconut pair together really well, and every bite was delectable. The ice cream was among the best coconut ice cream I have ever had, rich and full of coconut flavor, with a few strips of fresh coconut throughout. Walnuts and apricot sauce edged the large square of pudding, which was jeweled with slices of apricot.

This house with its beautiful setting, mindful presentation and tasteful fare make for an exceptional experience. It seems the guardian spirit must be happy.

Bangkok West

Address: 2505 Cabrillo College Dr., Aptos

Phone: 831.479.8297

Hours: Open 11am-2:30pm, 5-9:30pm Mon-Fri; 11am-9:30pm Sat-Sun

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