In 2013, Kim Suphankomut started offering Thai food from a truck called Thai Me Up, a regular at Larkinville’s Food Truck Tuesdays. Two years later he opened Water Lily Café, next to a Bowmansville apartment complex, where he serves best-selling dishes from the truck and an expanded Thai menu.
After dinner there recently, I left thinking that if I lived in Lancaster, I would thank my lucky stars for Water Lily Café, because every town should have a reliable purveyor of pad thai and tom kha coconut milk soup close to hand. After my extensive survey of Thai cuisine across the region, though, Water Lily Café came off as Thai lite. Too many dishes lacked the spark of chile heat I consider an essential element of the sweet-sour-spicy-salty balance of Thai cuisine.
Not every dish has to be spicy, of course. Crab Rangoon ($6), cream cheese with a hint of crab stuffed inside fried wontons, was a decent version, not overly oily. Thai fried calamari ($8) was well-fried but left a floury aftertaste. Sweet chile dipping sauce had some garlic but no fish sauce funk. Chicken satay ($7) was satisfying, four skewers of marinated chicken breast marked up on the grill, and served with both peanut sauce and a fresh cucumber salad with carrot, red onion and red bell pepper.
Tom yum soup ($5) with shrimp was the one spicy dish I encountered, bracingly so. The sour broth held mushrooms, tomato, scallions and tender shrimp, slicked with chile oil that blared over its other flavors. I preferred the tom kha soup ($4) with chicken. Its velvety coconut-based broth, loaded with mushrooms, red onion and sliced chicken breast, was soothing.
Som tum green papaya salad ($8) offered lots of shredded papaya, carrot, green beans and tomato, with ground and whole peanuts. It lacked tang and chile heat, and the green beans were squishy. The beef salad ($12) was excellent once the proffered lime wedge was squeezed over it. With thinly sliced medium-rare grilled steak tossed with red bell peppers and lots of cilantro, it didn’t make it back around the table.
Drunken noodles ($14) was a favorite, with squid, chicken, shrimp and pork served in a saucy tangle of broad rice noodles and vegetables like broccoli, carrots, red bell peppers and green beans. I wished for more of the anise-scented Thai basil, and the caramel aroma of well-wokked noodles. The pasta in the house noodles with beef ($12) lacked wok presence as well, but made up for it with plentiful, tender marinated beef, as well as broccoli, scallions and baby corn.
Pork and rice bowls accented with a fried egg provided more highlights. Moo ping ($13) was boneless marinated pork chops, grilled, sliced and served over a mound of rice, with a properly oozy fried egg that added richness when introduced to its companions. Even better was garlic pork ($12.95), my favorite dish of the night. It was thinly sliced pork in a garlicky glaze, spiked with white pepper, which flavored the rice as I stirred it in.
A dish of red curry with pineapple and shrimp ($13) was loaded with vegetables like carrots, pineapple, green beans. It was mild to the point of sleepiness, with more flavor than cream of tomato soup, but not much more spice.
For dessert, we ordered two dishes of coconut sticky rice with mango ($6.50). When Suphankomut brought them out he noted that the two mango samples were at different stages of ripeness, and we might enjoy the contrast. He was right, as we found one more crunchy and sour, the other softer, more aromatic and sweet.
At meal’s end, I realized we hadn’t been asked our preferred heat levels for dishes, as is standard in Thai places. It may have been a simple oversight, as Suphankomut and his wife, Amy, who was our primary server, seemed overloaded at times even though we were one of two tables. Twice during our meal, the phone rang and no one answered it, making me wonder if they needed more staff. They were nothing but welcoming, though, and Amy smoothly moved us to a larger table when she realized how much food was coming.
Alcohol is not offered. On some Tuesday nights during Food Truck Tuesday season the restaurant is closed, as Thai Me Up can be found at Larkinville.
People who enjoy Thai food because it’s exotic but approachable could come away from Water Lily Café quite pleased. Like I’ve said before, I like my Thai cuisine a little dangerous, riding the edge. If that’s not your scene, Water Lily Café should suit you just fine.
Water Lily Cafe - 6 plates (out of 10)
Bowmansville Thai restaurant offers solid but mild versions of classics.
WHERE: 5354 Genesee St., Bowmansville (288-9940)
HOURS: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday (closed Tuesday nights May through October); 2 to 9 p.m. Saturday.
PRICE RANGE: Appetizers, $4-$8; salads, $6-$12; entrees, $11-$14.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes.