Situated on the bottom level of a relatively new apartment building in Midtown, Bar of Thailand, or BOT, is the kind of restaurant that becomes a fixture of a youthful, vibrant social scene.
BOT serves plenty of the standard Thai fare that you might order in for a movie night or on a Sunday afternoon at the end of a hard-partying weekend. Typical dishes, such as tom kha soup, pad Thai and fried rice, are available with multiple meat and vegetarian options. The quality and price both are solid, which likely guarantees BOT plenty of regular customers in one of the city’s densest neighborhoods.
Still, BOT clearly has loftier ambitions. Much of the best, most exciting cooking there can be found in the more expensive Chef Selection column of the menu, and the bar’s wholehearted embrace of theatricality adds fun and excitement, making the restaurant an excellent spot for a date or celebratory night out.
The ambience certainly is indicative of more than just a takeout joint. Diners are greeted by the insistent pulse of dance music, including club remixes of current pop songs, and lights that change color regularly during your meal. The noise level never was deafening during our visits, but there was a constant, energetic buzz.
At the bar, much more creativity has been employed in the presentation of the drinks than in their flavors. The millionaire, essentially a whiskey sour made with yuzu sake and passion fruit, is served on a golden pedestal accented with fake tropical flowers, then sprayed with edible gold glitter by the server. The crazy rich Asian, a tequila cocktail not far from a margarita, is served in a glass shaped like an anatomically correct nude woman.
Do-it-yourselfers will enjoy the cheeky monkey, which is served in two parts: a large glass of vodka, prosecco and citrus, and a small bottle of butterfly pea flower-infused St. Germain. Pour the contents of the small bottle into the glass, and the acid in the cocktail changes the drink’s color from purple to blue. It’s an old trick, but still fun.
Nearly every drink leans toward sweet approachability and, despite all the added flair, most cost around $15. Wine and beer are mostly standard, recognizable brands, but some tasting notes would be helpful on the short sake list. The Choya sake turned out to be a very sweet plum wine, but there wasn’t any warning on the menu, or from our server.
When it comes to the food at BOT, most diners will enjoy the pleasant sensation of getting what they pay for. As you work your way through the menu, the specialty items with higher-end ingredients really do warrant a higher price, and seem to have been prepared with care.
Probably the best dish on the menu is the duck panang curry, which was cooked to a beautiful, consistent medium-rare with a nice, crispy skin. The panang curry sauce, which can be adjusted to your spice tolerance, provided a nice burn at the medium level, without wrecking the flavor. The rich, almost fruity curry married beautifully with the darker meatiness of the duck.
BOT’s really good version of fried rice gave the impression that every grain had been individually seasoned and cooked, and it featured lots of jumbo lump crabmeat.
For the pla tod, a whole fried snapper, the kitchen fileted the fish and fried it in multiple pieces, making the dish easy to share. The snapper skeleton, complete with head and tail, also was fried and served along with the tender meat, for dramatic effect.
One dish that missed the mark was salmon zap — raw, sashimi-like slices of salmon served with slices of serrano pepper and raw garlic. The preparation was lovely, but the salmon tasted a bit too fishy. Some additional quality assurance might be needed if BOT continues to serve raw salmon.
While you might not place Bar of Thailand in the pantheon of great Atlanta restaurants, it’s a fun, kinetic, vibrant place, perfect for Midtown.
And the day after you’ve had a few too many cheeky monkeys, an order of reliable pad Thai or fried rice will set you right again.
BAR OF THAILAND
2 out of 4 stars (very good)
Service: very good
Noise level: loud
Recommended dishes: tom kha soup, wagyu beef larb, steam dumplings, basil rolls, pad kee mao, gaeng panang, pla tod, smoked duck panang, jumbo lump crab fried rice, sticky rice with mango ice cream
Vegetarian dishes: tom kha soup with tofu, larb with tofu or mushroom, house salad, jasmine rice, roti bread, steamed Chinese broccoli without oyster sauce, cucumber salad, roti massaman, edamame, por pia tod, pad Thai, pad se-ew, pad kee mao, stir-fried garlic, basil fried rice, gaeng massaman, gaeng panang, gaeng kaew wan, vegan palace
Alcohol: full bar
Price range: $-$$$
Hours: 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. and 5-10 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays
Parking: paid street and deck
MARTA: half-mile from Midtown station
Reservations: yes, online and phone
Outdoor dining: yes
Address, phone: 1020 Piedmont Ave. NE, Atlanta. 404-500-1955
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