Boda specializes in food grilled on skewers, so good because the small pieces have lots of caramelized surface area, because it’s fresh off the grill and because you can wrap thin-sliced bacon tightly around whatever it is and bacon makes almost everything better. At Boda, almost everything includes dates, scallops and asparagus.
Boda, the re-invented Thai restaurant inside the space that used to be Bangkok Thai, serves a bar menu till 1 a.m. “The late menu is basically our entire menu minus the main entrees,” said Katie Boone, manager.
But go at dinner hour and taste more of another kind of Thai food, more delicate in seasoning and yet rougher in texture, more exciting in flavor and meatier than the Thai dishes you are likely to have already encountered.
Boda’s owners are Nattasak Wongsaichua and Danai Sriprasert, who also own the nearby vegetarian restaurant, Green Elephant. Home-style meals and street culture food combine to make the up the menu, and take-out is not available.
To get in the mood, there’s a ginger hot toddy ($7), with a stick of bamboo to stir hot whiskey, honey and ginger. Mango Mania ($7) served in a martini glass wafts its aroma across the table and keeps its sweet mango liquor in check with some grapefruit juice. Amethyst lemonade ($7) would be dangerously thirst quenching on a hot day, with Stoli Raspberry and Chambord mixed with fresh-squeezed lemonade.
Fragrant Hosmer Riesling ($8) from New York is an excellent drink with Miang Kum Som-oh ($5) (the last word is Thai for pummelo, the big fat citrus fruit that resembles a yellow pear-shaped grapefruit with thick soft skin). Served in four porcelain soup spoons and set on a betel leaf, the pommelo is mixed with chopped peanut, shrimp and shallots, toasted coconut and lime robed in a palm sugar dressing.
The betel leaf is famed for its stimulant powers — here, the tender leaf sets off the sour and savory fruit salad with aromatic clove. The mix of flavors really is remarkable, a stimulant to the senses that takes over your consciousness — for just a moment.
More down to earth are those bacon-wrapped pieces of asparagus ($5), one with an admirably thin slice of bacon that had tightened around the crisp-tender asparagus like a crunchy girdle. Another piece had bacon cut slightly too thick — and with such a little mouthful, the details are all.
Crispy quail ($6) let us eat with our hands, as we gnawed the tasty meat off the skinny bones and dipped it into spicy sauce.
The understated decor holds smooth but rustic wood tables, mottled gray on the walls and a careful concrete edge in one floor inset with oak. Framed photographs show industrial Thailand, giving the sense of a country emerging into modern, challenging times.
Beef panaeng ($11) is like pot roast with big, shaggy slices of long-cooked, tender beef — but you won’t find this sauce of concentrated beef, coconut cream, chili and spices in most New England kitchens. Pounded lime leaves, peanuts and basil also infuse the meat with their aromas.
The meat is set on a banana leaf cut in a clean rectangle and placed next to a molded rectangle of jasmine rice. Braised pork hocks ($14) are served with similar geometry, adding a tiny pitcher of intense, dark cooking liquid scented with star anise, and two small ramekins, one with pickled vegetables and another with hot and sour chili sauce. Next to the meat, which is cut into mouth-size bites, is a half a hard-boiled egg and a triangle of cooked tofu. I would have preferred the pork a little fattier.
Pad Thai ($15 with shrimp or shrimp and chicken, $12 with chicken) is tucked inside a rectangular pillow made of thin omelet, and concocted with maifun or vermicelli rice noodles. Spicy and salty, twirled around tender little sheaves of chicken and fat shrimp, excellent flavor won this dish top marks that night.
Fried rice with crab, shrimp with glass noodles, sole dumplings with coconut green curry make it likely something else would win out another night.
Champagne mangoes are ripe right now, making the seasonal mango with sticky rice ($7) sublime. Cut up in small, rosy-orange cubes, the fruit is a worthy dessert on its own, but how much more seductive when accompanied by an envelope of sticky rice — “Just undo the bamboo skewer,” the server said — that we could anoint with coconut cream.
Panna cotta ($7) wears a small scoop of passion fruit sorbet on top, with more of that fragrant mango diced very small, served beside it in a china spoon, paired with a second spoon of ripe strawberry. The tiny diced fruit flares up on the tongue, turning smooth cold panna cotta, a cream custard, into another version of the fruit and savory salad that began the meal.
Coffee in a press pot poured into handsome white cups showed off more of the aesthetics in charge at Boda, but the coffee itself fell short of excellent. The accoutrements make perfectly good not enough, for once in Maine, and that’s a cause for gratitude. It is splendid to encounter what we call ethnic food raised to a higher level at Boda.
N.L. English is a Portland freelance writer and the author of “Chow Maine: The Best Restaurants, Cafes, Lobster Shacks and Markets on the Coast.” Visit English’s Web site, www.chowmaineguide.com.