Buddha Ruksa is just shy of Thai-food nirvana
Special to The Seattle Times
3520 S.W. Genesee St., Seattle; 206-937-7676
Web site: www.buddharuksa.com/
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays, 4-10 p.m. Saturdays-Sunday, closed Mondays.
Beer and wine / major credit cards / no smoking / no obstacles to access.
What do you look for in a Thai restaurant? If you're after a decent chicken satay and pad Thai, Buddha Ruksa, which sits on an unassuming corner just off the bridge in West Seattle, can hook you up. It's one of the better Thai restaurants in town.
They have an interesting wine list, the menu is innovative, and the service is friendly and considerate. And you can hop off this bus now, because it's about to veer off in a cranky direction.
Buddha Ruksa's food prompted smiles and nods from a table of frequent eaters of Thai. In fact, the food was good enough to be frustrating: It was so close to being great, but it never quite got there.
In order to move you to the heights of pleasure of which it is capable, Thai food needs to be firing on all cylinders. A typical dish will be sweet, sour, salty and spicy hot, with no one flavor dominating. In other words, Thai food is balanced but not subtle.
At Buddha Ruksa, this principle kept going slightly awry. Several entrees were too sweet. And one unfortunate dish didn't seem to offer any of the four flavors.
Perhaps this is because I steered us toward more unusual choices. But shouldn't those be the menu standouts — the dishes the restaurant is so excited about, they put them on the menu even though few patrons will have tried them?
In addition to the selections listed below, the menu offers rare and alluring options like a northeastern Thai trio of papaya salad, sticky rice and grilled chicken ($14.95), and the northern Thai curry noodle Kao Soy ($7.25). The latter is a bowl of spicy noodle soup that comes with a nest of crispy fried noodles on top and tart preserved mustard greens on the side.
The wine list at Buddha Ruksa is serious and reasonably priced, with many wines by the glass, including such gems as an Albrecht Alsatian Pinot Gris ($27/bottle, $8/glass). Its oblong dining room is comfortable and can get loud as it fills up — which it often does, since this is a popular spot.
Let me be clear. Buddha Ruksa is a very good Thai restaurant. Whether they downshift into standard fare or make the leap to the top rank along with places like May in Wallingford and Noodle Boat in Issaquah remains to be seen. Either would be fine, but today, they're posed on the edge.
Trout Salad: Many Thai restaurants, here and abroad, serve a whole fried fish stuffed with various savories. Buddha Ruksa has that dish, too, but this is its clever cousin: a whole filleted trout fried and topped with a tangy (though too sweet) salad of cabbage, lemongrass and scallions. Dig down for a bite of fish with each forkful of salad — and don't miss the skin.
Wonton Pad Thai: What happens when you replace the rice noodles in pad Thai with crispy chicken-stuffed wontons? "Hey, this is good," we kept saying, partly out of surprise. With more sauce and bean sprouts than a typical pad Thai, this unusual recasting is crunchy and sweet but ultimately successful.
Forest Curry: If a curry falls in the forest ... sorry. This dish, a curry without coconut milk, is supposed to be like a beef- vegetable soup so intense that it has to be served over rice. Here it was so bland that it wasn't satisfying even without the rice, and the beef was tough.
Mango Delight: Mango with sticky rice is the ultimate in rice pudding: rich, addictive, hard to improve upon. Here it's served with a scoop of mango ice cream, which doesn't hurt a bit.
Itemized bill, meal for two
Trout Salad $9.50
Wonton Pad Thai $9.95
Forest Curry $7.95
Mango Delight $5.25
Matthew Amster-Burton: email@example.com
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