Spicy Thai Basil Chicken//All photos by Steve Legato
“A best-kept secret!”
Online critics are forever clinging to exhausted, simplistic superlatives. And yet, how else to describe Downtown Bangkok Café, other than to peg this Thai yearling as a quaint hidden gem or a surprising off-the-radar find on the outskirts of Phoenixville?
From Left: Downtown Bangkok Café’s casually elegant interior; green curry
Owners Yaowapa and Jerry Kowal—the chef and manager, respectively—didn’t set out to become restaurateurs. They first opened Yaowapa Thailand Treasures, a retail gift shop of handmade imports, in 2009. Six years later, they have an artfully decorated 48-seat eatery on the store’s second floor. It was inspired by a passion for cooking rooted in Yaowapa’s heritage. It became a reality thanks to Jerry’s skill as an engineer and a direct merchants’ pipeline from Thailand.
Impressive wall mountings and hand-carved statues from the Kowals’ native Chiang Mai region can be found through-out the café’s four tastefully appointed dining spaces and waiting room. That attention to authentic detail continues with the etched wooden tables and chairs, logo embroidered napkins and silverware handles bearing elephants.
Chef Yaowapa Kowal preps dishes in the kitchen
The cuisine is well prepared and delicious. Our three skewered chicken strips came with an addictive peanut sauce. Another app, the Crying Tiger, combines tender slices of grilled beef and assorted crunchy veggies with a sweet chili-lime sauce. The “medium” spice offers just the right heat. The Pad Thai tastes authentic, as does the Drunken Man—a hearty tangle of flat soba noodles, egg, basil and vegetables, served with a choice of shredded beef, chicken, pork or tofu.
The grilled tofu cubes are the perfect accompaniment to Yaowapa’s fragrant curries. Her onion-pineapple-potato-and- peanut-studded massaman, in particular, is a pungently ruddy lava flow, gushing creamily over fluffy jasmine rice. Hot and crispy coconut shrimp top a chilled Thai salad, providing a unique contrast in flavor and temperature.
From Left: Thai tea; the casual elegant interior
Desserts are simple and sparse. The honeyed banana, rolled into fried wonton skins and served with vanilla ice cream custard is the best of the lot.
THE SKINNY: Comprised of a series of lavish rooms nestled above Thailand Treasurers, this surprising find goes well beyond run-of-the-mill superlatives. Both the fare and the peaceful aesthetics are emblematic of Thailand.
Crispy duck with tamarind sauce.
- Advertisement -
DOWNTOWN BANGKOK CAFÉ
705 Pothouse Road, Phoenixville, (610) 933-4800.
Cuisine: Traditional Udon Thani province noodles, rice and stir-fry, plus curry.
Cost: Appetizers $8.50, entrées $12.50.
Atmosphere: Surprisingly refined and romantic.
Hours: 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday and Sunday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday.
Extras: BYOB; private parties up to 16.