I was bored by dinner at Boda. And I’m trying to get to the bottom of it. We arrived at seven-ish on a Friday and waited for two couples ahead of us to be seated. We admired the dining room from diminutive benches, hidden between the door and the host station. The lower dining room is a beautiful space, with warm wood-beamed ceilings, interesting lighting, and one polished gray cement wall. The (good-at-her-job, I oughta know) hostess offered us seats at the four-person grill-front bar, where we sipped cocktails. My house-made, cinnamon-infused bourbon made a Manhattan ($7) that tasted like a very boozy Christmas in July with Judy Garland. That’s a lot of hyphens.
I felt like a clumsy, ineffectual giant pulling back my tiny chair at the heavy wooden table. I could not get comfortable all evening. Even the slender menus have heft. Perusing these, a few things caught our attention. Instead of ordering entrees, we decided to share three from the tapas column: Thai Northern-style sausage ($5), crispy quail ($6), Brussels sprouts ($7), and three skewers: pork belly ($5), bacon wrapped scallop ($8), and pork stuffed jalapeno ($5). This is my favorite way to eat (or is it everyone’s?) and since the emphasis here is street food, it seemed appropriate.
Quail is an insipid spit of a bird and nibbling its flesh proved awkward. The sausage was interesting, with a deep lemongrass aroma, but I don’t need it in my life. The dish that most delighted me was the Brussels Sprouts, all small and fried, with saucy leaves falling away from green flesh. This and the scallop-wrapped-in-bacon skewer were the two outstanding choices. It was the single best scallop of my life; the bacon melted into meat and did not overwhelm the sweet mollusk, with sublime results. I liked the pork belly because it tasted the way a multi-ethnic picnic in the park on a Sunday in Brooklyn smells. But it’s not a reason to go on, if you are feeling lost and torpid. Sadly, there was no heat in the jalapeno and its pork stuffing was bland. It was the low point of a meal we wanted to love like crazy, but only felt fondly about. I would invite this dinner to a formal open house, but never to my slumber party.
The crisp and mineral Picpoul de Pinet ($7) was the sort of white wine that really tickles me. I will go back for that all summer. It’s wine you drink on a roof top garden strewn with herbs and lofty individuals. And I do want to try the mussels in curry broth. And the organic beef salad. And the lamb curry. And munch on the scallop skewer and Brussels sprouts again. As it turns out, I am not yet finished with Boda. I want to dig into Boda the way so many others who’ve reviewed it have. That night, it missed the mark for me. Maybe in the future. For now, I feel neutral, and cautiously optimistic.
It’s not that I was expecting typical American takeout Thai and it certainly is not my in depth experience with authentic Thai fare that kept me from having an exceptional experience. The service was fine – in turns unobtrusive and flaky but cute overall – that didn’t trouble me. What I had to drink was better than average. The price was right, at $61.50 for dinner for two. I can’t put my finger on why I felt so “meh” about it. Fortunately, it is a problem I can solve, or at least, make another attempt at understanding Portland’s Very Thai Kitchen Bar on Congress Street.