June 26, 2008

Busara Serves Up Satisfying Thai Cuisine

By John Stark, The Bellingham Herald, Wash.

Jun. 26--BELLINGHAM -- For the past two years, our monthly restaurant reviews have focused on the high-end places, where the price of a dinner starts at around $20 and moves up fast from there.

We offered that focus on the theory that when people shell out that kind of money for a meal, they might appreciate some information on whether it's going to be worth it. We found that for the most part, Whatcom County's upscale restaurants don't embarrass themselves.

Now we're shifting our focus a bit. We'll still visit the top-priced places from time to time to see if they are maintaining standards. But at a time when many of you are trimming spending, we suspect you may appreciate some tips on places where you can spend less but still get a great meal.

I'm starting with Busara, the Thai restaurant in Sehome Village next to REI. I intend no disrespect to other Thai restaurants around town. I have had good meals in all the ones I have visited. But Busara has been a personal favorite for years, with its wood-paneled interior, friendly atmosphere, and dishes that manage to seem both creative and authentic. The restaurant also features some large booths for Asian-style dining that are popular with families.

The wife and I always begin with Bangkok bouillabaisse (wow, that's hard to spell), a superb blend of prawns, scallop and squid in a spicy coconut milk broth that manages to be sweet, sour and hot. It's accented with lemon grass and lime leaves. The $9.95 bowl could make a meal for one, and it's more than enough to serve two as a precursor to dinner.

We also ordered an assorted appetizer plate, $8.95, relieving us of the burden of choosing among spring rolls, chicken satay and giew grob. The spring rolls are always fresh and crispy here, stuffed full of fresh greens. The satay sauce on the skewered chicken is thick and rich, and the flaky little giew grob wontons are stuffed with crab and cream cheese.

For dinner, we chose two dishes from the short list of house specials on the back of the menu: Thai home-style duck, $14.95, and Pataya noodle, $8.95.

The specials had never let us down before, and this night was no exception. The duck was sinfully rich, with a nice crispy skin and a sauce chock full of eggplant, green beans, red bell pepper, karchai root and basil in a broth made from a fiery curry paste. We didn't plan it that way, but the pataya noodle turned out to be a milder dish that was a good counterpoint, with thin stir-fried noodles in a sweet and savory sauce with chicken, carrot, bean sprouts, onion and snow peas.

While we cleaned our plates, we also agreed that the bouillabaisse and the duck were a bit saltier than we preferred, and the duck was a lot hotter than we expected. We had ordered everything in the admittedly wimpy two-star category.

But our meal did nothing to displace Busara as our personal reigning favorite among local Thai food restaurants.

By now, those of you who have different favorites are already e-mailing me to set me straight, which is terrific. Bring it on. We'll review more Thai restaurants in the year ahead, and we'll also try to find some space to print some of your e-mail submissions. You can also just submit your comments on the Web site.

Reach John Stark at 715-2274 or [email protected]


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