The Weekly Eater
WHILE waiting outside Bua Khao Thai Restaurant for a friend to arrive, I watched three people pass by in search of food. Their dialog sounded familiar.
mark Thai menu
"Do you want Thai?"
"I want something with meat."
"Let's try next door."
Off they ambled to Assaggio, before returning for another look at Bua Khao's menu.
"They have meat."
Italian lost this time, but owner Thomas Ky still wins because he owns both restaurants.
The two cuisines are totally different, but Ky's M.O. is the same: Take a well-liked cuisine, bring it to a bedroom community not known for great food, dress up the room to give patrons a reason to dress up if they so desire, serve food with plenty of flavor and watch.
The formula worked for Assaggio in Kailua, Mililani and Hawaii Kai. This is his first try with Thai and there's no reason for the formula to fail.
The room is the prettiest it's been in awhile. It's casual enough for shoppers to feel comfortable and definitely a couple of tiers above the bar ambience of past tenants.
And the food, just as at Assaggio, is none to subtle, heavy on the salt, coconut milk, curries and basil that make for an assertive menu. Even a Yum Salad -- lettuce tossed with lemongrass, sliced onions, chilies, mint and calamari ($8.90, $9.90 with shrimp, $10.90 with a seafood combination) -- does not escape the heavy-handed treatment. Drain some of the "special sauce" and it's fine.
Start with the Appetizer Platter ($9.90), with a halved Spring Roll, halved Shrimp Roll and two deep-fried Chicken Wings, well-stuffed with long rice, ground pork and vegetables.
Then, of course, you must try one of the curries. Take your pick of vegetarian ($7.90) red, green, yellow or the Panang curry with peanuts, chili paste, peas, basil and shredded Kaffir lime leaves. Add chicken ($8.90) or shrimp ($9.90) if desired. Some beef and pork are also available. Scallops with Green Curry ($10.90) is a delicious choice, although some might complain the texture is too similar to the eggplant in the dish.
On one visit, they offered a special of Yellow Curry with King Crab Legs, ringed with peppers. The crab was sweet and fleshy, with the shells cut into segments that gave easy access to the meat. It's a dish that should be added to the specials list as frequently as possible.
We also tried the Whole Steamed Fish (seasonal) on one visit, a 2-pound snapper for $24, served with a sweet-sour chili and lime sauce and topped with onions and bell pepper. The treatment was a bit rough for such a delicate fish, although the crispy skin is addictive.
After eating a lot of rice with the salty meal, I didn't care for more in the house special dessert, Sticky Rice ($4.50) flavored with coconut. I preferred the Tapioca, served warm, to which you could add slices of apple banana. Or cleanse your palate with a refreshing sorbet. You'll probably need it.
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Nadine Kam's restaurant reviews run on Thursdays. Reviews are conducted anonymously and paid for by the Star-Bulletin. Star ratings are based on comparisons of similar restaurants:
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-- below average.
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