When Hoa asked me to fill in for her for this week’s Hold the Meat feature, she said I was free to express my personality. So please don’t mind me while I start by geeking out for a few minutes. I can’t believe I get to do this! I’ve worked around food for the last six years and while I’ve had some amazing culinary adventures, I’ve never had an opportunity to write my opinions about what I was eating. This is like going from recreation league baseball to the Big Show—and I couldn’t be more giddy!
OK, now down to business. I’ve been to before and had a delicious experience with their papaya salad. I haven’t been there since shortly after they opened, so I figured it would be a good place to revisit. Maybe it was because my expectations were high after my “beginner’s luck” visit, but I can say this time around wasn’t quite as satisfying. But don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t bad. It just wasn’t great.
I’ll qualify my opinion by saying I like my Thai food to be colorful, light and containing layers of fresh flavors. I’ve experienced this at a few restaurants in San Diego (and one in Poway), but it seems to be more the exception than the rule. With that in mind, I started with the fried tofu. I’ve never had this appetizer before—anywhere—so it’s tough to be all Judge Judy on this one. Honestly, it was OK, but I expected the outer fried portion to be a little more crunchy. It looked really crunchy but the texture didn’t match the look.
I also expected a little more flavor, either with some spice in the tofu, a dusting of cilantro or an interesting sauce. It was served with a chili sauce that was fairly standard tasting. In the words of Randy Jackson, it didn’t do much for me, dawg.
On to the Rard Nah Noodle dish. I was drawn to this because I saw it was served with Thai gravy. Thai gravy? What is that? I had no idea, but it sounded interesting. It had a lot of yummy components: broccoli, lightly steamed carrots, mushrooms, wide noodles and the gravy. My first observation was that the brown gravy dulled the color of the veggies a little bit. This is not my preference, but it isn’t always a deal breaker so I decided to do the taste test.
The gravy looked interesting. And by interesting I mean it looked odd. It was a pale brown and had an almost gelatinous appearance as it cooled down. But again, having never tried Thai gravy, I wasn’t sure what to expect. The upside is that it surprised me with a nice savory flavor.
Side note: I never asked what type of broth the gravy was made with, so I may have unknowingly stepped outside of the no-meat rule for this part of the meal. Overall, this was fine and the veggies were perfectly cooked. I would’ve liked to see more color, less gravy and maybe a garnish or two. I will try this again in the future to see if I can catch the cook with a smaller gravy ladle.
I saved the best for last, which was the Tom Kah soup. This girl loves her Tom Kah. The combo of coconut milk, spice, lime and veggies is one of the most heavenly combinations on earth. I’ve had this more times than I can count, including a superb homemade version by a Thai friend of mine. Bua Thai’s version was tasty and a had a nice balance of flavors. I could’ve handled more spice, but this was probably fine for the average consumer. It was great to end my meal on a high note.
My overall perception after two meals is that Bua Thai is hit and miss. Some dishes stand out whereas others were so-so but, still, it’s worth a visit. I will be back if for no other reason than to find those few noteworthy selections.
Vegetarian-friendliness on a scale of 1-10: 10 because there are a lot of vegetarian selections in all categories (appetizers, entrees, etc.).