Bhan Thai is located about half a block west of the intersection of Peabody and Cleveland, near Crump Stadium. The main entrance to this converted home brings its patrons into a quaint bar area. A hostess greeted us immediately and seated us in the main dining area. The room accommodates about 25 guests. Smaller dining rooms surround the main area and create very intimate gathering spaces. The interior of the restaurant is filled with color, from the bright red and yellow fabric on the chairs to the paintings that adorn the walls. Behind the restaurant is a deck with an outdoor fireplace and a cozy dining area featuring a pianist.
But enough about the ambience. Let's move on to the food.
For starters, we chose the crab Rangoon and the featured appetizer, green-lipped mussels. The mussels were drizzled in a curry cream sauce and decorated with large slices of white onion and red peppers. This vibrant dish paled only when compared to its taste. The plump mussels had been steamed perfectly, and I was pleased that the mussels' delicate flavor could be heightened by the sweetness of onions and peppers without the sauce drowning them. Unfortunately, the crab Rangoon did not live up to our expectations. The wontons came minus the crab but with a lot of sweet cream cheese. A sweet-and-sour sauce accompanied the dish but wasn't needed.
We bypassed the soups and ordered the signature Bhan Thai salad, which was generous and plenty for two. A pile of fresh mixed greens topped with sliced boiled eggs, cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, bell peppers, and fried tofu came drizzled with a creamy peanut dressing. Crispy fried noodles capped this salad and gave it a saltiness and definite crunch.
While we zeroed in on appetizers and the salad with ease, choosing our entrées proved more difficult. So many options -- diners can have chicken, beef, pork, shrimp, or tofu added to each entrée, curry, noodle, or fried-rice dish, excepting the house specials.
Our first selection was the cashew nuts with beef: cashews with chopped red peppers, broccoli, onions, carrots, and thinly sliced, tender steak served with a spicy chili sauce. This dish had great curb appeal, and the sauce gave a nice burst of flavor to the vegetables. The "Eight Angels," a house specialty, was not so special. The menu description -- "sautéed shrimp, chicken, pork, and beef with asparagus, carrots, shitake mushrooms and baby corn in a delightful mild brown sauce" -- sounded wonderful. I believe the sauce contained a fish or oyster sauce. Either way, it was just too bland. This dish had everything going for it, from presentation to ingredients. It just fell short in its delivery.
For my entrée, I ordered the sliced boneless roasted duck in a spicy red-curry cream sauce. The anticipation almost got the best of me. The sauce cradled not only the most tender duck I have had in a long time but also chunks of fresh pineapple, green and purple grapes, tomatoes, bell peppers, and basil. I admit to being disappointed that the dish came on a plate rather than in the pineapple shell described on the menu, but don't get me wrong: I cannot complain about this entrée.
Finally, we had the "Three Companions," another large-portion pleaser with its three good-sized lambchops smothered in chopped red and green bell peppers and onions, Bhan Thai's signature spicy basil sauce, and freshly chopped sweet basil used as a garnish. The lamb was prepared perfectly, tender with a slightly pink center. The only recommendation I can make is for the chef to select a leaner cut of meat. As with all of the dishes, the jasmine rice was a flavorful addition to this house specialty.
As if we had not had enough, we inquired about dessert. Our waiter explained that Thai cuisine is not big on desserts, and the only item on the menu that evening was a chilled mango. We declined, and, stuffed though we were, we left Bhan Thai hoping for more.
Bhan Thai is located at 1324 Peabody. Lunch: 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. Dinner: 5 to 9:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and Sunday and 5 to 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Currently, Bhan Thai offers wine and beer. Reservations are not accepted. Take-outs are welcome. 272-1538.