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November 13. 2012 8:03PM

Our Gourmet: Bodhi Thai Bistro a delicious way to be enlightened

Bodhi Thai Bistro

40 Pleasant St., Portsmouth; 431-1299; www.bodhithaibistronh.com

Serving: Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday until 10 p.m.; Sunday 4-9 p.m.

Handicapped access: Front stairs

Restaurant Location:

40 Pleasant St., Portsmouth NH

When a new Thai restaurant opens just a stone's throw from Market Square in Portsmouth, there's no doubt that this Our Gourmet team will be there quickly. "Quickly" is a relative term, though, for it took us longer than we would have liked to get to Bodhi Thai Bistro, which opened in July.

Setting 13/20

Our Gourmet: The brisk little eatery on Pleasant Street, in the heart of the Port City's central shopping/dining/strolling district, offers about a dozen tables, with small bar at the back between the restaurant and kitchen. There's a wide-screen TV behind the bar, but thankfully it was off this night. Decorations are minimal above the polished wood floors, with Christmas stockings and other Yuletide touches competing with a few pieces of artwork, bamboo and other Asian decorations on bright orange and green walls. It's a bit spartan, but the food speaks volumes. 6/10

The Dining Companion: We hesitated upon entering on a recent Saturday night, simply because the restaurant was empty at 6 p.m. Not a soul. But after a few patrons were seated, we grabbed a table, feeling not so alone, and were wise to move in when we did. By 6:30 each table was occupied. Two servers and a restaurant manager handled all posts, creating a bit of a rushed ambiance, but altogether friendly servers explained the menu, offered drinks, and made sure we did not have to wait. Smooth jazz in the background and splendid cooking aromas filled the air. 7/10

Menu 18/20

OG: There is plenty to choose from at Bodhi, and creativity fills the pages of the menu, offering many variations on the same theme but with some intriguing custom touches. Five kinds of curry are offered along with a fine selection of seafood, salads, soups and noodle and rice dishes. Depending on your choice of protein (tofu, chicken, beef steak, pork loin, shrimp, calamari, sea scallop, seafood combo, or duck), main dishes run about $13 to $18, with jasmine white or brown rice.

When ordering, patrons are encouraged to pay attention to the spice level. Bodhi puts names to it: 1) Coward, 2) Careful, 3) Adventurous, 4) Native Thai or 5) "Show Off." Choose with care; chefs are always better show-offs than diners. 9/10

TDC: The seafood and curry dishes attracted me, and I held off ordering some authentic Thai soups (Tom Yum, Tom Kha, vegetable, $5 to $9 for one or two) to not spoil dinner.

We shared a House Salad ($6) which was plentiful and very nicely prepared with fried tofu, pineapple slices, and fresh tomatoes and cucumbers amid onions and peppers and a small mountain of greens, with a delicious ginger-spiced dressing. Other salads ($6 to $17) feature beef steak, chicken, seaweed, mango, papaya and steamed seafood (shrimp, calamari and scallops). A good selection of appetizers and a range of dinner choices ensure all tastes are accounted for. 9/10

Appetizers 18/20

OG: We shared a small portion of the House Sampler ($11) and were glad we went small. It wasn't small - a plateful of fried Asian delicacies that would have been plenty for four had we gone large ($18). Satay chicken on skewer was accompanied by a pork dumpling, chicken wing, crab rangoon, curry puff, shrimp wrap and crispy spring roll, nicely sided by creamy peanut sauce, scallion-spiced teriyaki sauce and sweet-spicy chili sauce. Plenty for two, or nearly a meal for one, the Sampler lays the groundwork for your meal. 18/20

Entrees 18/20

OG: Ginger Fish ($17) offers salmon (my choice) or tilapia, lightly broiled or fried, in a spicy ginger-scallion sauce that fills the bowl beneath a healthy serving of fresh vegetables - peppers, snow peas, scallions, onion, mushrooms and small slices of fresh ginger. The large, thick salmon steak withstood the spice preparation nicely, offering just the right seafood flavor to a medium spicy overall dish, made all the spicier with my "Adventurous" labeling. The discussion with our server even touched on "Native Thai," so I asked for my adventurous dish to lean toward the native, and it did that perfectly. Spicy? Absolutely. Tolerable? Absolutely. Flavorful, fulfilling? No doubt. A fine meal, choosing among the myriad of veggies, sticky jasmine rice and fall-off-the-fork tender salmon. A definite winner. 9/10

TDC: Masaman Curry Seafood Combo (shrimp, calamari, sea scallops; $18) was a mouth-watering bowl of Asian delight, with a thin, flavorful, slightly-spicy red-coconut curry sauce nearly floating all the veggies and seafood that made up this large meal. Onions, roasted peanuts, zucchini, carrots, potatoes and red peppers were enough to satisfy by themselves, and large sea scallops and baby shrimp added just the right seafood ingredients. Usually I can take or leave calamari, but Bodhi's was nicely prepared and sliced thick to withstand cooking and not become rubbery. The spice and heat of the curry was balanced by the starchy jasmine rice and the cool, crisp salad. Highly recommended. 9/10

Final thoughts 17/20

TDC: Bodhi Thai is the type of eatery where, after your meal, you realize how many dishes you would like to try, and how to do the place justice would require several visits. I remarked during dinner that if I worked in downtown Portsmouth I would have one of the house salads every day. Now, I realize that's a stretch, but the salad was good enough to prompt the comment. And that's just a tiny part of a vast menu of tastes and choices available. 8/10

OG: According to Bodhi's website, Bodhi means enlightenment, and the restaurant's goal "is just that. To enlighten your senses and tempt your palate." Those not familiar with Thai food or unsure about the experience, for the first time, should take heed and venture forth to be enlightened. It will be well worth the trip. The restaurant's owners, the Senesombath family, make sure the site explains that most any dish can be prepared to your liking, and after that there is a richness of cuisine you'll be happy and well-served to explore. 9/10

Total 84/100


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