Blooming Good

Banana Blossom gives Thai cuisine a fresh feel, both in taste and presentation.

Frequently, the dishes we love are laden with butter, oil, cream and other forms of fatty richness. These diet-unfriendly ingredients are difficult to avoid when dining out, and so is finding a plate at least half full of the good-for-you fruits and veggies.

But a meal at Banana Blossom, a Thai restaurant that opened in November on the fringes of Ohio City, makes it easy to comply with a colorful diet while satisfying your rich-food-craving taste buds.

A generous order of tamarind duck ($17.95) features nine representatives of the plant kingdom: carrots, broccoli, zucchini, green beans, yellow squash, mushrooms, snow peas, red peppers and tiny ears of baby corn. They are steamed and served with slices of crisp-skinned poultry and awash in a light, tart sauce with just a touch of sweetness.

If you want to eat with your eyes first, order the papaya salad ($7.95), a stunner in presentation and palate. Golden slices of juicy fruit are tossed in chili-spiked lime juice along with string beans, tomatoes and peanuts. The brightly colored combination offers an appealing crunchiness in every forkful. Add grilled lemon grass chicken ($2), and you've got an excellent entree.

Eating these dishes left me feeling well-fed, and there are plenty more like them on Banana Blossom's menu, which is heavy on chicken, seafood and vegetarian selections. Up the nutritional ante by choosing brown rice instead of jasmine, and steamed shumai ($5.95) — airy, thin wrappers filled with shrimp and minced veggies — over the fried version.

Two appetizers on the must-have list veer from the traditional Thai dishes that are the heart and soul of Banana Blossom, but both are right in line with healthful eating. Ohitashi ($5.95), a common Japanese side dish, is a simple preparation of cooked spinach at room temperature, sesame oil and sesame seeds. Chive pancakes ($5.95) are more like stuffed dumplings, and it's the dressing that makes them memorable — a combination of regular and sweet soy sauce, ginger and hot sauce.

There are five versions of curry with seven proteins to choose from. I went with a Panang curry plus chicken ($12.95), which is slivered and silken. Redolent of coconut milk, the gravy has a creamy consistency but contains no dairy. What it does have are pieces of eggplant, peppers, green beans and basil leaves. The two-pepper rating suggests it would be seriously hot, but there was only some buzz and no burn.

And don't assume that hard-core red meat eaters are ignored here. I couldn't resist the coriander beef ($12.95), a skillet of marinated flank steak that arrives sliced, sizzling and intensely fragrant atop shredded cabbage. Each bite had a dense texture and a taste that whispered of pepper and cilantro. This isn't a traditional Thai dish, but it is one chef Montri Visatsud makes at home. His wife, Amy, a born and bred Clevelander, insisted they offer his creation at the restaurant. They own Banana Blossom in partnership with another couple, Mike (his American nickname) and Sengchan Misaiphon, both trained cooks and, like Visatsud, originally from Bangkok.

It's a mom and pop operation, with occasional help from friends, so everybody does a little of everything. This can translate into less than perfect pacing and service: nobody immediately visible to greet us and seat us, an entree that appeared before we finished the appetizers. But an earnest and accommodating desire to please more than made up for these minor glitches.

The lighting here is uber-bright. Despite boldly colored walls, some pieces of folk art and a few Thai-inspired paintings, the small dining room feels a bit sterile. The seven-seat bar, a handsome deco piece that served Halite, Budapest Blonde and a succession of former tenants looks out of place now.

But these details won't diminish your enthusiasm for the place. I like that I can get beer, wine or a martini with my pad thai. And the mix of guests — couples of all vintages, families and groups of toasting, tattooed friends — adds to the
atmosphere.

The vibe is pure Ohio City: relaxed and cool without being too hip. The owners are welcoming. But the best part is what's coming out of the kitchen. That starts with the homey sounds of food being prepared to order — you can hear what's cooking, the metallic slap of spoon on wok and the steady chop of a cleaver, without feeling like you're in the kitchen — and finishes with a very good meal.


When You Go

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