This Hole-in-the-Wall Life

Life's intersections are strange indeed. Consider my visit last week to Bangkok Corner in Costa Mesa.

Bangkok Corner doesn't feature the encyclopedic menus of other Thai eateries—a less charitable reviewer might say its offerings are limited. But what Bangkok Corner lacks in choices, it makes up in taste. Each dish is concentrated bliss, devoid of the slicks of peanut oil and grease that often sweeten Thailand's nuanced dishes beyond recognition. Curries are milky, thick, heavy with bits of meat and vegetables; I prefer the yellow curry, redolent of steamed potato and carrot. The pad Thai comes with tiny noodles in the center of the plate, bean sprouts and peanuts to the side—the better to appreciate the well-rounded meal.

The vegetable dishes are best. Sautéed ginger literally sizzles with flavor, while the spicy basil leaves freshen your breath even as your face is busting out a nice sweat. And the chicken dishes? Crispy, barbecued or ground up and fried with chile, red onion, and mint leaves in the stunning salad called larb—all of them impress.

But back to the odd intersections. While I was enjoying some cream cheese wontons, a gangly guy with a camera dangling from his neck approached the counter.

“Hi, I'm here to shoot a picture for OC Weekly,” he told the befuddled cashier.

The guy was Blake Sinclair, one of our photographers.

I had never spoken to Blake before, which means he hadn't heard my warning: shooting photos for This Hole-in-the-Wall Life is the culinary equivalent of an assignment in Baghdad. The restaurant owners often don't understand English, and their response to photographers is uniform skepticism—most restaurateurs mistake them for solicitors. The Bangkok Corner worker was summarily suspicious of Blake, asking who he was with and what was this OC Weekly? “It's a good thing,” Blake helpfully offered. The cashier wasn't convinced. “I'm calling the owner,” she said.

I wanted to step in, to explain who Blake and I were, tell the worker that Bangkok Corner was a welcome surprise and that my review would likely bring them more business. But her tone lightened after Blake gave her a business card. She shouted something in Thai to the cook; a plate of pad Thai appeared shortly.

“Is this good enough?” the Bangkok Corner worker asked Blake.

He nodded, began shooting, and ate to his heart's content.


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