Review: Bangkok Balcony

On Friday, the Pittsburgh Dining N’at Meetup made their way out to Bangkok Balcony (beware annoying Flash intro). Being both an interesting destination and located right in my back yard, I made a point to join them in the adventure. My experience that night completely impressed me—far beyond any expectations.

Bangkok Balcony
★★★★½ ($$$)
5846 Forbes Ave
Pittsburgh, PA 15217
(412) 521-0728

Bangkok Balcony on Urbanspoon

Bangkok Balcony is awkwardly located on the second floor of one of the Forbes Ave store-fronts in Squirrel Hill—between Murray and Shady. The small entrance (and the only street-level sign) is to the right of what used to be Norka Futon, but they have since closed. By day, the whole restaurant is lit up by a large window facing out onto Forbes. The restaurant is pretty spacious, with plenty of seating and a relatively small bar tucked into the far corner. Expect photos in a few days when I return from a vacation.

Limited staff interaction. Possibly as a result of being surrounded by a large group, the amount of interaction with the waitstaff was very limited. Even having started out at the bar with a few early-arrivals while waiting for quorum, I can’t remember much in the way of back-and-forth. That’s not bad, and some people find limited staff interaction to be desirable. It’s just different and would have felt a little cold and sterile had I been there with fewer people. That said, I may have seen more interaction without such a large group. It’s hard to say.

The thick Asian Menu. The menu at Bangkok Balcony is fairly large. You’ll find lots of Asian/Thai dishes: some appetizers, light soups, curries, and all the chicken/seafood/steak options you might expect. Of course, there’s also a list of “recommendations” somewhere near the beginning that’s actually worth paying attention to for something a little more inspired. I’m by no means an expert in Asian cuisine, so I can’t say how typical or how distinctly Thai the menu might have been. For all the details, just check out the online version (aha: a direct link behind the Flash). There’s no point in re-creating too much of the detail here.

The salmon salad—that wasn’t, really. That sounds like the least Thai option imaginable, but hear me out: this was no American salmon salad. By my analysis, it wasn’t really even a salad. It was, however exceptional. My “salad” consisted of an amazingly prepared salmon filet with deliciously crispy skin underneath. The whole filet rested atop a small quantity of greens. I’d actually tend to call it more of a salmon filet garnished with some greens, but whatever you call it, the arrangement worked out very well for the dish. A relish/glaze covered and topped the filet with part of it spilling over onto the bed of greens.

The spicy level 8—that really was. I had ordered a spiciness level of 8 and found most of the heat to appear in that glaze, which was tomato-based with sauteed onions and visible quantities of Asian chili sauce (hot with visible pepper seeds and all). The delivered seasoning was right in line with my expectation (which can always vary with establishment). This was right in line with what I wanted an 8 to be. Packing lots of heat, but in a very flavorful and balanced way.

The texture of the salmon was remarkable. How many restaurants miss the opportunity of including skin on their salmon? When done well, a preparation with skin can both hold in moisture and add new levels to the texture and depth of the fish. Bangkok Balcony included the skin and skillfully sizzled it crispy to perfection, such that it maintained an exceptional flaky texture throughout the meat of the fillet. The sauce delivered a certain saltiness that offered balance to the heat and depth too the fish. It could possibly be labeled as overly salty, but the results were so enjoyable that I can’t actually fault the chef. To use a phrasing from Jeff Bearer, this was definitely the first “wow” Asian meal I’ve had in quite some time—if not ever.

We all know Asian restaurants don’t tend to be beer destinations. We do, right? If they even have a liquor license, you can expect the prototypical Saporo and maybe a domestic or two for the closed-minded. I even went so far as to show up with a 750 mL bottle in hand—seeming to recall that Bangkok Balcony was BYOB and not finding any information to the contrary on the web. I was wrong. The bar listed the typical Soporro, but also some notable craft beers and even guinnes. Everyting was in bottles with no draft options, but the selection was more than welcome.

Will I go back? You better believe I’ll go back. It actually takes a lot to bring me to frequent an Asian restaurant: my experience has been very hit-or-miss, and the vast majority deliver overly salty/greasy piles of overcooked veggies atop rice. Not what I’m looking for. My experience this time gives me the impression that Bangkok Balcony can consistently deliver. It’s a little pricey, but well worth it every once in a while. If you haven’t given them a shot and you live anywhere near by, you should definitely add Bangkok Balcony to your list as well.

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2 Responses to “Review: Bangkok Balcony”

  1. PghLesbian Says:
    August 16th, 2009 at 11:08 am

    I read about your blog in the PG so I came to see if you’ve reviewed restaurants we enjoy — we strive to try small, indie places, too. This is a good one. I’m pleased at how many people bring their children and how those children are trying new foods. Awesome.

  2. mike Says:
    August 16th, 2009 at 11:48 am

    PghLesbian: I’m glad you made a point to check out the site. I’m always open to suggestions for local indie restaurants, so feel free to throw some my way. What have you found that’s noteworthy?

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