Z: At Busaba, Thai for woman, you won't find a single man in the kitchen. Nor will your dishes be bussed by anyone of that gender either. It's a unique business owned, operated, and maintained by women only. In their effort to create exceptional vegetarian renditions of traditional Thai dishes, owners Annie, Nat, and Gun offer a refreshing array of tasty dishes not found on other Thai menus. Crispy Fish with Green Apple is one outstanding example.
R: With this all-female team, you might expect fluffy ambience with lace curtains, fragrant potpourri, and flowery décor. Instead, the cool, hip team created an environment that matches cutting-edge restaurants with its clean, comfortable simplicity. Framed photos of Thai scenes and colorful butterflies accent the deep olive walls. White tablecloths grace the tables along with white cloth napkins, fresh flowers, and green chopsticks. On the practical side, they've chosen to cover the tablecloths with white butcher paper. The handy paper actually caught a few drips while we spooned up our tasty Wonton Soup.
Z: The open kitchen, framed with walls of brick red, adds to the ambience and gives one the feeling of watching a TV reality show with Piying and Piya bustling around the small kitchen where the frenzied activity is part of the entertainment. Sizzling, chopping, and clinking sounds fill the room, while an occasional clunk and tall plumes of flame punctuate the background. Music of every genre contributes the finishing touch to the restaurant's special character.
R: Busaba is an ideal place for vegans to dine in comfort. Most of the menu items are vegan with vegan options on those that are vegetarian. On our first visit we began our meal with Dumplings we chose to have steamed rather than grilled. Light as a feather, the dumplings with their special egg-free Korean-made wrappers were filled with a grand mix of finely minced veggies and noodles. Spicy, sweet and sour soy vinaigrette provided the perfect dipping sauce.
Z: We also enjoyed the mildly spiced Pad Kee Mao Drunken Noodles that featured lightly sweet and savory-rich, flat rice noodles with carrots, green peppers, onions, mushrooms and veggie chicken. A typical Thai touch, the carrots on all their dishes look like bright little, scallop-edged flowers. The Busaba Pumpkin is a rarified treat for those who fancy kabocha. Accented with fresh Thai basil leaves, the pumpkin is sauteed with garlic, Thai chili, and seemingly magical spices. Kang Kiew Wan, a skillfully prepared green curry, was enriched with coconut milk and topped with green beans, a julienne of bamboo shoots, bell peppers, Thai basil, and chunks of tofu.
R: Our subsequent visits convinced us Busaba deserves special recognition for their creativity, their well-crafted dishes, and their genuine desire to please. Their attractive presentations make each dish instantly inviting. We loved their Summer Rolls, a mixture of baked tofu, colorful veggies, and deep green lettuce enveloped in soft rice paper wrappers. Even the thick, spicy, and lightly sweetened peanut sauce accompanying the rolls was the perfect complement.
Z: Beyond compare was the Crispy Rice Salad, a layered dish that was as eye appealing as it was delectable. On a base of crunchy, deep fried brown rice, were chunks of marinated tofu garnished with long julienne shreds of carrot and onion, and garnished with cilantro and roasted peanuts. What made this dish incomparable was the pungent sweet-sour-salty dressing that permeated each irresistible bite.
R: Though I fully appreciated the Crispy Rice Salad, I found Gun's recipe for Mock Duck Curry the best curry I had ever encountered. It might be a gender thing, but men like sauces that are thick and robust. This one's a winner with flavors that balance each other so effectively with bits of veggie duck swathed in a lightly spiced coconut milk base and a hint of tangy lemon. The curry's special highlights include chunks of pineapple and baked tofu, tomatoes, green bell peppers, and Thai basil. To accompany the curry, we ordered brown rice thinking it would be the typical short-grain variety. Far better, Busaba serves a nutty blend of dark and light brown rice varieties that provides the perfect vehicle for the curry.
Z: Well, it's easy to recognize Reuben was totally enraptured with the Mock Duck Curry--I'm in total agreement. However, my hot pick was a new dish on the menu--Crisp Fish with Green Apple. It's thumbs up captivating! Batter-dipped then encrusted with cracker crumbs, large soy fish steaks were fried until delightfully crispy. The presentation included a generous portion of long, julienne slivers of green apple, along with peanuts perched on top of the fish. Adding to the attractive presentation were slivers of red bell pepper interspersed with sprigs of cilantro forming sunrays at the edge of the platter. What made this dish exceptional was the chef's special sauce that stood out with sassy sweet-sour-salty flavors.
R: Since there were four of us ravishing this innovative Thai cuisine, we added Wonton Soup to our selections and were grateful for Gun's suggestion. The wonton wrappers were the same airy, Korean-made skins used in the dumplings and were filled with minced shiitake mushrooms and baked tofu. Floating in the tasty mushroom broth were generous portions of the plump wontons, veggie shrimp, and leaves of fresh spinach.
Z: Completing the awesome meal was Mango with Coconut Rice. Sitting tall on a square orange dish was a row of fresh mango cuddled next to a perfectly molded mound of sticky rice seasoned with coconut milk, their special sugar, and a definitive pinch of salt. Gun told us chefs Piya and Piying season the rice according to the sweetness of the mango. Because this mango was quite sweet, they added a touch more salt.
R: The enhanced flavors of Busaba's dishes reflect the background of the chefs who are from the southern part of Thailand where strong seasonings are favored. Gun, who is vegetarian, had previously worked with Piya at a non-veg restaurant and, together over the years, they developed vegetarian dishes that are now served in this restaurant.
Z: Together, the three women partners and the two female chefs offer imaginative, sophisticated, and flavor-rich Thai cuisine with a nouveau bent. While the chefs keep the kitchen sizzling, Gun, Nat, and Annie take pride in serving their customers exceptional value in unpretentious surroundings, along with attentive service and friendly smiles.
7168 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90046
Reviewed September 2006