BY CHRISTINE BARBOUR
The dining room at Bangkok Thai Cuisine is beautiful, dominated by the majestic wall of local limestone that says, “Indiana,” with every inch of its custom-carved beauty. But the menu takes you far from Bloomington with its exotic offerings of Pad Kee Mow and Panang Curry and Som Tam, and the chatter in Thai among owner Waew Chantar; her husband, Chef Chitakorn Setmark; their 2-year-old son, Pete; and many of the staff. This restaurant has moved a world away from the days when Tad Delay and Linda Ripperger commissioned that wall and offered new American cuisine at the much-missed Limestone Grille.
Bangkok Thai Cuisine is the baby of Chantar, who, ironically, signed the papers creating the business the same day she found out she was pregnant with Pete. Once the owner of a restaurant in Bangkok and trained as a hair stylist, she had come to Bloomington 16 years ago, working at various beauty parlors before opening her own, Élan Hair Salon, in Fountain Square Mall. But then she met and fell in love with Setmark, who had cooked his way around the world before landing in Bloomington, where he worked at several local Thai restaurants.
Setmark’s passion was to have a place of his own, where he could indulge his culinary creativity, even down to carving the elaborate vegetable garnishes, which aren’t exactly cost-efficient but are beautiful.
So Chantar and Setmark decided to open their own place, scouring Bloomington for locations before settling on their current east- side home at 2920 E. Covenanter Dr. in 2013.
The food is delicious. A standout on the menu is a steaming bowl of wonton soup not only laden with a flavorful broth of chicken and fat wontons, but also heaped with noodles. It will cure whatever ails you and leave plenty to take home.
Other winners are the Spicy Chicken, deep fried nuggets in an addictive tongue-tingling sauce, and the Som Tam, a shredded green papaya salad with green beans and peanuts, redolent of lime juice and a hint of fish sauce, served with plump steamed shrimp instead of the more traditional dried shrimp.
Like most American Thai restaurants, Bangkok Thai Cuisine also offers patrons the standard choices of curries — green, red, yellow, Panang, Masaman, etc. — with a choice of protein (beef, pork, chicken, shrimp, tofu), noodle dishes such as Pad Kee Mow and Pad See Ew, which are Thai comfort foods to the max, and a variety of stir-fries. Most dishes can be ordered on a spiciness scale of one to five stars. One star means “medium mild.” Four is “Thai hot” (Warning: in Thai, hot means HOT.). Five, says the menu, means “lava.” If you try that one, you’ll have to let us know.
Bloomington is known for its many good ethnic restaurants, and now there’s one on the long-neglected east side. Bangkok Thai Cuisine offers a first-rate dining experience — delectable food, a beautiful dining room, and that fabulous limestone wall.