Boda on UrbanspoonI 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.


  1. says

    I felt the same way about Boda and was starting to feel crazy. Everyone else seems to LOVE it – I just feel kind whatever about it. It isn’t revolting, but it also didn’t wow me. I kept going back, giving it another try and finally gave up.

    Sorry Boda.


  2. Malcolm says

    I confess to not really “getting” it, either, although perhaps it’s because we stuck to their skewers and small plates. They seemed pretty ordinary, but maybe their entrees are more exciting?

    • JillianJillian says

      it is too bad. I want it to be so amazing, as it is near our apartment and could be our friday night place.

  3. says

    i’ll stick up for the place- i had a great meal there. ate things (from the small plates, entrees, and dessert menu) that i still think about, like oooo, i could really go for those quail eggs or the fruit salad on betel leaves (whatever the eff it’s called) right now. i don’t want it to be one of those places that you have to order certain items for it to be good (b/c that pisses me off- front room, i’m looking at you). but i wouldn’t have ordered what you ordered- those menu items don’t grab me. agree, tables/menus are awkward, but i’m there for the food.

  4. nolasox says

    Yeah, I agree with kate. I’m afraid to say you ate the wrong food (not that you should be able to order “wrong” food at a good restaurant, but …). I’ve always found the skewers just ok (and not all that great of a deal for the cost). On the other hand, the fruit salad on betel leaves (or, whatever) is excellent and some of the entrees are unlike anything you can get in Portland (the pork hocks come to mind).

    • JillianJillian says

      I like to think I’m a pretty good orderess, but I am always happy to go on good advice. We’ll have to try the ham hocks next time. thanks for reading!

  5. Malcolm says

    But, but, but…I thought skewers were kind of supposed to be the point, right? Thai street food? No? I love the idea, but if you are selling meat on sticks, it had better rock your face with juicy flavor (as I imagine it does in Thailand), or barring that, be paired with some drop-dead sauces. Of the six dishes we tried, almost all were very plain, very dried out, and very boring. Did we just pick EXACTLY the wrong six dishes?

    Stranger things have happened. We’ll move on to the entrees and see what happens on that side of the menu.

  6. says

    The first time I went to Bresca we spent $140 on exactly the wrong dishes… they just weren’t grabbing us much the way we had hoped. We went back a year later, ordered completely different, and had our best meal in Portland to date. The pork hocks, the pumelo fruit cups, beef panaeng, grilled shrimp skewers and taro fries are all things we’ve had an enjoyed. Notice how they’re all saucey? I lean more towards the apps then the skewers for the same reason you listed–they were always kind of meh. So, when we go we don’t really even look at the skewers, save for when they had some local beef tongue on there. And, it was meh. So, we just stay away from that section of the menu and build a wonderful and flavorful from the other sections.

    • Malcolm says

      But, wait. If you have to immediately discard half the menu, particularly the half of the menu that makes up the thematic basis of the whole restaurant, is that really a place to recommend?

  7. says

    M–no, it’s not. Just because certain things are not to your or my tastes or expectations doesn’t mean that it isn’t to someone elses. Food opinions are not absolute and palettes differ from person to person–where your light seasoning may underwhelm you, the next guy walking in the door may find it overwhelming or just exactly perfect. Also, when you still have 3/4’s of the menu–let’s not forget that they do serve dessert, so it’s a bit off from your estimate of a full half of the menu–that are strong then you can recommend it. It’s also that rare place in town where the apps don’t really outshine the entrees because so many of the entrees are quality.

    • Malcolm says

      I disagree. Underseasoned food is underseasoned food. Dried out, tough meat is dried out, tough meat. I don’t buy that there aren’t some objective constants, and the fact that there are other, better dishes to try (I am particularly looking forward to the Panaeng, as I share your penchant for a good Rendang) doesn’t undo that.

      You’re right that my estimate of “half” the menu was a little off. I jumped to that because the small plates and skewers take up the left half of the menu, and so I was stuck with that as a visual. When you factor in desserts, small plates and skewers in fact only make up 44% of the menu, but when you add back in how important those items are to the theme of the restaurant, they make up more than 866%. That’s just math.

      • says

        Point to you and math as I was also stuck on the visual and singling out the skewers as the section for debate. Texture, especially on the pork skewers, I will concede but, from my own experience, I know that there are other skewers on that list that are much more seasoned like the beef and shrimp. Granted, it could just be the nature of the beast(literally), but plain pork belly–sliced, grilled and slightly salted–isn’t really that interesting. I haven’t ordered that skewer since the first time we visited because it was so boring in flavor and the completely different then what I had envisioned arriving on the plate. However, I have a coworker that loves it. I don’t get it but, that’s the beauty of the human palette.

  8. says

    Oh and we don’t tend to look at the skewer part of the menu because there are usually 4 things on the tapas section that we want, as well as entrees, and would rather use the belly space for those.

  9. B says

    Malcolm, I think you are being overemphatic about the street-food/skewer aspect of the menu. First of all, the restaurant’s theme is more accurately an “eating culture of Thailand,” (as desribed on their website) including both street food and home-style cooking. Skewers are not the only “street food” on the menu; the pork hocks, an entree, are a good example of street vendor-type food that is not a skewer. And, I must agree that people’s palette’s differ greatly- simple, minimally seasoned food appeals to *plenty* of patrons, many who prefer this type over the more complex flavors. While I am not one of these people, I do know (from spending plenty of time there!) that others are. I have never had anything “dried out” there.

    • Malcolm says

      Thanks for the comment, B. I know that Everyone Loves Boda, and I know that when we say we weren’t really moved by it one way or the other, that can make the people that do love it feel defensive. But you’re probably right; we made a mistake in emphasizing skewers and small plates, though felt like since the restaurant seemed to emphasize those elements, that was an appropriate move. Next time, we’ll skip the left side of the menu, and explore some of Boda’s “saucier” options, as S. recommended. Pork hocks, here we come!

  10. JKG says

    Now that we’re gone, I miss Boda (and every other restaurant in Portland, even 555 which always seemed overpriced). I used to agree with Jillian’s assessment on the street-food section of the menu. But that’s not what I’m writing about — it’s the seats.

    I hate, hate, hate being uncomfortable at a restaurant. HATE. HATE! (Is there a bigger font I can use?) As someone above commented, I’m there for the food. But if I can’t get comfortable, I can’t enjoy said food — no matter how many drinks I throw down. Barstools are a special pet-peeve. I should be able to settle in to a bar (or a table, Boda) and forget about my ass, not feel perched on a rivet like some shagged-out Tour de France campaigner who’s hit the wall.

    Anyone who isn’t Thai is going to have trouble fitting into one of the tables at Boda. F.

    Other than that, nice atmosphere, good street-watching, better Thai food at the place it used to be.

  11. Cabot says

    Please let someone open a restaurant filled with lazy-boy recliners and a personal butler for all of you insipid, vapid whiners.
    Boda is a gem, faceted with a friendly staff and simple food that will only disappoint if you are a Grinch living on Mount Crumpit.
    If you only had time to pay close attention to the rudimentary seat upon which your over stuffed rump were perched and comment on how uncomfortable it was, then perhaps you should pay more attention to how dull your company was and work on tightening those glutes.
    Flavors abound at Boda and never fail to disappoint.

  12. klp says

    I admit, we’ve had a bad night or two at Boda, usually from ordering fails (hot cucumber soup? yuk), but the good nights far outweigh the bad. My absolute favorite things on the menu are the mussels, beef salad (which they make w/o mint for us because of an allergy), brussel sprouts, pork satay with peanut sauce, and MAMA’S FRIED CHICKEN. The fried chicken has been a special for about 3 weeks now (I believe it’s the owner’s mother’s recipe), and it’s amazing. They serve it with sticky rice and a green papaya, green bean, and shrimp salad. I hope they make it a permanent fixture on the menu, and I hope you guys give Boda another try. Or don’t, actually, because it’s crowded enough!

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