Occupation: Law Student
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Benjarong Thai Cuisine
Reviewed Benjarong Thai Cuisine: Sunday, April 11, 2010
Benjarong always provides a quiet, relaxing atmosphere for dinner. The restaurant is very clean and tastefully decorated with Southeastern Asian flare. For a Thai place in the city, this one has the nicest décor I have seen yet. There is calming music playing in the background. It almost feels like there should be a spa attached.
Upon arriving, there was no wait, and we were promptly seated at a table. When we first arrived, there were only two other tables taken, but over the course of our meal, four more couples came in for dinner. There were also people in and out picking up take-out orders. We placed our order, and my dining partner was quickly given his beer. And then we waited. My partner finished his beer.
Finally our appetizer arrived. And while we were frustrated with the wait, the fresh rolls were delicious! They arrived cut into pieces, just like a sushi roll. There was a small bowl of peanut sauce on the side. The mint in the roll makes this dish. The whole thing tastes fresh, clean, and light. Not too long after finishing our fresh roll, the pumpkin curry came out, and a few minutes after that, the Pad Thai arrived. Their pumpkin curry is hands-down my favorite Thai dish that I have found in the Bay Area. The chunks of pumpkin are so tender. The curry is a spicy red curry with coconut milk. There are also bell peppers and sweet basil in it. Even after all the chicken, peppers, and pumpkin is gone, I will just pour this sauce over rice and eat it because it’s so good! I enjoy their Pad Thai because it is not super heavy and greasy like some Pad Thais are. Theirs feels lighter and fresher, and still tastes great. This is great comfort food, but still feels like a lighter version.
The waitstaff is incredibly friendly. To me, the wait is worth it because the food is so good. But don’t come if you are starving and expect to be eating quickly. I suggest take-out if you’re not in the mood to linger over dinner in a restaurant. Their prices are standard Thai restaurant prices, and the portions are plentiful.
We left stuffed with no room for dessert. Dinner here is a deal. They also offer lunchtime combination specials. Getting a table with no wait is easy. Parking can be a little tricky because the restaurant is on Lombard in the Marina, but there is a parking structure a block away if you need it. I strongly recommend Benjarong because the food is delicious and the atmosphere is charming, but you must be a patient diner or just go the take-out route.
Occupation: Actress and Comedienne
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: CreoLa Bistro
Reviewed Benjarong Thai Cuisine: Friday, April 9, 2010
This Lombard Street restaurant is very pleasing to the eye, featuring a typical Buddhist motif. The presentation of every dish was superb; a beautiful visual experience.
The three of us started with a smattering of appetizers that showed inconsistency. The Thai somosas, filled with curry-potato mixture, were tasty while a Thai tempura -- shrimp and vegetables -- was a miss. The batter was a leaden, near corndog-type coating, rendering the veggies underneath indistinguishable.
A soft shell crab salad with green mango brought some redemption: it was crisp, lightly dressed, and loaded with cucumbers, tomatoes, and green onions. However, none of us could taste (let alone see), any green mango.
The grilled meats were really palate pleasing. The marinated New York steak was big, juicy, and tender, done right by a light vinegar flavor. The salad that accompanied it had a mustard-based dressing and got style points for being served in a large martini glass. The pork chop was on par with the steak, generous and moist.
The pendulum swung back, though, with what should be the defining dish for any Thai restaurant, namely, Pad Thai. It looked great, but tasted the way cigarette smoke smells: awful. In fact, it's possible that was the source of the taste: too much liquid smoke.
The Benjarong experience was brought further down by problematic service. Our waitress, while pleasant, seemed averse to cleaning empty plates, taking only the empty dishes that were actually handed to her. Upon bringing our check, she never asked if we wanted coffee, tea or dessert. Still, after seeing three unappealing choices and after a so-so meal at very best, we decided to call it a night. San Francisco has so many good neighborhood Thai restaurants, it’s difficult to imagine facing the lack of parking on Lombard to venture out to Benjarong.
Occupation: Wedding Coordinator
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: El Metate
Reviewed Benjarong Thai Cuisine: Friday, April 16, 2010
We arrived at 5:30, and parking was a snap early on a Friday evening. The restaurant was adorned in traditional Thai furnishings with an urban touch. The clean lines and contrasting colors gave it a bistro feel. As we were the only customers, we were immediately greeted by two servers and seated at a great window seat. We perused the menu, which was filled with interesting pictures of the food presentation. My date decided to order the pineapple fried rice that was served in a hollowed-out pineapple complete with petite Asian parasols and roses made from hand-carved radishes. It looked like a parade float driving down Market Street during the gay pride parade! We were definitely in a restaurant that took its whimsical presentation seriously. I ordered a Singha beer and my date a shoju cosmo. As I was able to watch our server make the cosmo by carefully pouring the ingredients and giving the concoction some tender loving care.
We decided that we would have a lighter dinner, as we had theater tickets at 8 and didn’t want to be placed in a food coma. My date really wanted to order the crispy wontons as he reminisced about a Thai restaurant in Los Angeles that had the best crispy wontons in the world. He was so happy to see them on a Thai menu, so how could I deny him the pleasure? They arrived hot and crisp, in a basket filled with crunchy rice noodles replicating a nest with the wontons nestled within. The accompanying sauce was sweet and spicy, perfect for dipping pleasures.
The next course was a Thai beef salad with artichoke -- a familiar Thai recipe, but I was curious to see it laid out on a bed of steamed artichoke. The flavor of grilled beef thinly sliced with cilantro, lime juice, and refreshing mint with rice powder was exactly what I had expected, but the artichoke layer gave the salad a hint of iodized flavor. The artichoke was slightly browned, and when properly prepared they should be bright green, but the lime juice and mint were so refreshing and colorful that I forgave this flaw.
Our Pad see-ew arrived as thick rice noodles with tender chicken and vegetables. This dish reminded me more of a chow fun with a black bean sauce rather than any noodle dish I had ever experienced in a Thai restaurant. It was good, but not what I was expecting. The ingredients of Thailand were visible, but the flavors of China were apparent. The dish was garnished with hand carved daikon radishes dyed pink and blue.
The sticky rice was delivered in a petite individual bamboo basket complete with a miniature carrot carved into a baby flower. I had never seen a bamboo basket of this shape or size and the rice inside was tasty and sticky enough to soak up the sauce from the noodles.
Service was attentive and friendly, but it was odd that it was now 7pm on a Friday night and we still had the restaurant to ourselves. Nor did I see any take out or delivery being executed. The wait for the processing of the credit card was a bit long.
Overall our meal was enjoyable, and the ambience was pleasant. I would possibly return if I were in the neighborhood and hungry.