Santa Cruz Good Times

Apr 16th
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Mid-day Multi-course Feast

dining bangkokwestSurround yourself in Thai culture at Bangkok West

At Bangkok West, Thai cuisine is waiting to fuel a reasonably priced weekday lunch. It's like wandering into another world, from the meandering walkway to the ornately appointed interior with bejeweled gilded carvings, statuary, and Kalaga tapestries.

The buffet itself ($8.95) included soup, salad, appetizers, fresh fruit and hot dishes, with both brown and white rice. I started with a regular iced tea ($1.50) whose tropical flavors negated the need for sweetener.

Tart coconut-based soup was loaded with a medley of vegetables. Slices of fresh spring rolls were stacked in a covered plastic box. Purple cabbage and green lettuce were visible through the rice paper wrappers. Carrots cut thinner than matchsticks were joined by cilantro, a strip of fried tofu and zucchini spear. Smooth peanut sauce is available as an accompaniment.

A nice selection of lightly battered tempura vegetables, including onion rings and tender sweet potatoes are kept delightfully crisp in a heated box. For dipping, the syrupy peanut-topped sweet chili sauce is more sweet that hot. A large bowl of mixed green salad, topped with shredded carrot and red cabbage was tartly dressed. I found the peanut sauce to be a wonderful addition. dining bang

Eight main courses waited in the hot table. Mixed vegetable Thai Basil included chewy fried tofu, mint, with slivered bamboo shoots and broccoli.

I liked the unique Four Season Fish. Carrot, C-shaped slices of bell pepper, bamboo shoots and lightly battered fish filets bathed in a sweet and mildly spicy sauce.

Thin strands of Bangkok Noodles in a sweet sauce were tossed with cabbage and broccoli. Thai fried rice included bits of scrambled egg, peas and carrots, and both green and mature onions. Pad Thai, with its chewy pumpkin-colored noodles, was mixed with plenty of lightly cooked vegetables and topped with crisp slivers of green onion and bean sprouts.

One of my favorites, and a standard, is Green curry. On this day, thinly sliced lean pork joined green peas, cabbage, zucchini and fresh basil in a fairly spicy pale green, coconut-milk sauce.

Curry paste is the basis of green curry, made with young Thai chilies which have a unique flavor in addition to a high level of heat. Puréed with various leaves, grasses, roots, seeds and spices, the hotness of the dish varies by the amount used.

I ordered a bit of take-out to gauge the restaurant's definition of "Thai spicy." Green Curry Chicken ($8.95) was definitely spicier than the buffet version, with chicken breast and plenty of bamboo shoot strips and fresh basil. Extra heat was obtained by adding strips of jalapeño.

A fan of Thome Yum Gai ($6.95), a soup without coconut milk, Bangkok's version smelled of kaffir lime, and had fresh crimini mushrooms, a bit of tomato, lemon grass and chicken breast in its spicy-sour broth, along with strips of jalapeño.

The Larb Salad ($9.95) with iceberg lettuce featured red chili-flecked, coarsely chopped pork flavored with lime juice with red and green onions and enhancing leaves of mint.

Bangkok West, 2505 Cabrillo College Drive, Aptos, 479-8297. Beer and wine. Serving lunch Monday through Friday 11 a.m. until 2:30 p.m., dinner daily from 5 p.m. until 9:30 p.m. Open Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. until 9:30 p.m. Vist

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