Boda Thai on Congress St. is one of the several Asian restaurants in Portland that are somewhat more upscale than the traditional takeout-heavy eateries one might associate with the genre. It’s also a place I connect with being on my list as one of the first restaurants to truly pique my interest in the Portland food scene. Having met a couple there who moved to Maine from New York “for the food”, my mind ran wild with all the fun I could have exploring the local food culture and telling people about it.
My most recent trip to Boda took me there about six months after my previous visit. We walked in a half hour after they opened and were left choosing to sit either at the bar by the grill or the bar by the booze. Though we chose the wet bar, we had no intention of drinking, but figured it would be more exciting than the other option. A bartender slid menus our way and we began to take a look. I saw some of my perennial favorites along with some items I had yet to try.
Boda’s menu consisted primarily of tapas and grill bar apps, salads, and entrees. The grill bar items were mostly skewers of varying meats and veggies, often with a dipping sauce. I ended up choosing a starter which I had previously ordered, but not in a long while – Portabella Mushroom Skewers brushed with sesame oil and mushroom sauce. Then I went with a favorite that I order often – Kra-Prao Chicken – ground chicken stir-fried with hot basil, onions, green beans, and red pepper served with fried egg, jasmine rice, and a side of spicy fish sauce – spice level three of four. She ordered the Apple Salad – local apples, shrimp, roasted coconut and roasted peanuts in a sweet, sour sauce – to start. For her main course, she decided on two apps – Chicken Breast Skewers grilled with seasoning soy sauce served with sweet chilI sauce and Thai Sticky Rice Ball with soy sauce, pepper, scallion, and garlic
After telling our server about our most intimate food desires, we watched carefully as the staff worked their magic around us. The bar staff was on point, making cocktails and pouring beer and wine with precision. As the wait staff came to grab the drinks, the bartenders put up more to be served. Occasionally, the dishwashers would bring clean dishes to the end of the bar to be put away. It all worked like a well-oiled machine at a rapid pace and there was no sign it would ever slow as everyone seemed to know exactly what to do and when to do it.
The first food to arrive was the salad and the Portabella skewers came just after. My wife had had the salad a number of times previously and still felt that it was outstanding. I didn’t try it since it’s made up primarily of foods I am allergic to or don’t enjoy, however, I happily worked over the mushrooms. Each of two skewers had three pieces of the grilled fungus on them. They were good, not overly potent, but tasty from their natural flavor and a bit of a char.
I ate the mushrooms quickly – they weren’t a large serving – then I continued to observe the staff, totally engrossed in what they were up to. That kept me busy until more of our goodies came out. My dish was a familiar face. The bottom of the plate was full of sauce. The chicken was rife with red and green veggies. A pile of rice was topped with a fried egg and alongside it were three pretty cucumber slices. A little cup of fish sauce finished the presentation.
Priority number one was to dump the fish sauce sauce on my rice. The sauce always comes with a warning that it’s spicy, but I find it much more salty. However, as long as its not eaten by itself and gets mixed with the food and dark liquid at the bottom, it’s a perfect addition. After that was done, an initial taste of the chicken lit up my brain with outstanding flavors – sweet, spicy, salty, herbaceous from the basil – and offered a beautiful vegetable crunch. Next, I dug into the fried egg, breaking the yolk on top of the rice and subsequently took some of it which I swept through the brown sauce. After sampling all that, I took a slice of the fresh cucumber to wash it all down. My word! The dish was out of this world. Again.
Mrs. Portlandeater dug into the chicken skewers and rice ball. I tried the ball and it was magnificent. The crispy carbohydrate concoction created by clear culinary cleverness is one of the best rice recipes in existence. Crunchy, salty, and rich in flavor, it’s a transformational rice work. I didn’t try the bird-on-stick, but they are always perfect and their accompanying sauce is wondrous. We both ate like nobody was watching, stuffing our faces in a serious manner.
We finished what we had, leaving nothing behind. She decided to order a hot tea. I can’t say I was still hungry, but I can say I wanted dessert. A list of three options led me to order Thai Sweet Rice Pudding topped with coconut cream and toasted coconut flakes, served warm. I love rice pudding and figured I couldn’t go wrong with that. It didn’t take long to come out and I was presented with a bowl of dark pudding topped with the coconut flakes. Alongside it was a tiny bowl of the coconut cream. I tried it without the cream, but it clearly needed something more. Once I dumped the topper on there, it created a slightly sweet pudding awesomeness that really hit the spot.
When the pudding was finished, there was definitely no more room for anything inside my belly. We paid the $52 tab, added a suitable tip, and hit the road to head to a movie. Boda did it once again. They are a spectacular establishment that never ceases to wow me. Their incredible consistency, simply amazing food, and reliable service continue to earn my highest praise. It’s not lost on me that I’ve never had an item I didn’t like there even though I’ve had so many. If you haven’t been, you most certainly must go. If you’re consuming alcohol, the Mango Mania is one of the best drinks in Portland, but they are all incredible. I also highly recommend ordering the Kanom-Krok Quail Eggs and House Fried Peanuts or any of the skewers. Whatever you do, don’t wait any longer to experience the truly exceptional cuisine they serve. And don’t forget to tell them Peterpeterportlandeater sent you. If you’re a Portland restaurant-goer, it’s what you do.
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