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| Thursday, May 10, 2012, 8:39 p.m.

One of the benefits of wandering through Squirrel Hill is savoring the aromas from the restaurants that line Forbes and Murray avenues.

Whether it's the fragrance of stir-fry coming from the Chinese restaurants, the scent of Italian coming from Pi's gourmet pizzas, or the smoky bacon smell that makes your mouth water as you walk by Pamela's, the neighborhood's eateries don't disappoint.

But Bangkok Balcony deserves more than a drive-by sniffing. The Thai restaurant, 23 steps above Norka Futon in the middle of the Forbes Avenue corridor, is worth the hike up the stairs to see what's behind its complex aromas.

And once inside, it's an otherworldly escape from the bustle on the street below.

Reds and golds bathe the airy dining room in warmth -- even on the coldest nights. Asian pottery and sculptures decorate the alcoves while window boxes and planters provide a vibrant lushness. Down to the smallest lampshade and light Asian music playing in the background, the mood is set for a delightful meal.

The menu can be a bit overwhelming for first-time visitors, but that only speaks to the vast selection offered. We started with a few appetizers that are perfectly sized to share.

The Fresh Roll ($5) provides a different flavor with every bite. The rolls -- rice paper rolls stuffed with fried tofu, mint leaves, basil, rice noodles, carrots and lettuce -- look a bit odd because they aren't cooked. But the fresh ingredients and sweet brown dipping sauce offer rich and surprising taste with each bite. The basil and mint compete for your taste buds.

The Steamed Dumplings ($6) are stuffed with pork and served with a black sauce. They're a favorite that never disappoint. The Grilled Shrimp and Scallops ($7) are skewers of the seafood along with red and green peppers and onions. They are marinated in vinegar and chill sauce and served on a bed of greens.

Bangkok Balcony, like many other Asian restaurants, offers entrees with the choice of meats -- or vegetarian -- and allows diners to choose how spicy the food will be. We ordered entrees prepared at Level 4, which had a noticeable kick, but wasn't going to eat away the lining of our stomachs. Bangkok Balcony's wait staff also is very helpful in assisting diners struggling to choose dishes.

Part of the fun at Bangkok Balcony is enjoying your meal family-style. Most entrees are easily shared, so diners can sample a few dishes during the meal.

The Pineapple Curry ($11) blends the fire of curry with the sweetness of pineapples and coconut milk. We chose pork, and spooned it over white rice. The Talapia in Bangkok ($15) combines talapia fritters with mushrooms, broccoli, carrots and onions in a tangy spiced sauce. The fritters are tender and flaky and don't hold a fried fish taste.

The Basil Leaves ($11) served with beef, exploded with flavor. The tender beef strips absorbed the flavors of the basil and peppers. It is served with a spicy garlic sauce.

And last but not least, we had the Pad Thai ($10). Pad Thai is the Big Mac of Thai cuisine, but here, it earns its place at the table. It's not uncommon to eat Pad Thai and get the feeling that the sauce is nothing more than melted chunky peanut butter over noodles and sprouts. Not here. The sauce has a peanut flavor, but it's nuanced with spices to give the dish complexity.

The entrees often don't leave room for dessert. But, if you're not stuffed yet, a few sweets are offered to cleanse the curry from your palate. The Fried Ice Cream ($4) is topped with coconut, chocolate sauce and whipped cream and served with banana and strawberry slices. The Thai Custard ($4) has an unusual taste and texture, but is tantalizing nonetheless. Custard rings sticky rice that's topped with a sesame seed glaze. It's sweet, salty and warm -- and worth trying.

Your next trip to Squirrel Hill should include a hike up to the Bangkok Balcony. Not only do you get a bird's eye view of the sidewalk below from the dining room's huge windows, you get a dining treat just as good as scoring a great deal on a pair of shoes or a handbag at Little's next door. Additional Information:

Details

Bangkok Balcony

Cuisine: Thai.

Entree price range: $9 to $16.

Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays; 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.

Notes: Reservations accepted Sundays through Thursdays. Non-smoking only.

Location: 5846 Forbes Ave. (second floor), Squirrel Hill.

Details: (412) 521-0728.

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