I've known many people who, while working in restaurants, are so personable they draw customers back again and again. A personable server or restaurateur is never enough for this food lover, much as I do appreciate great service. I judge a restaurant first by the food; service rates second place in my book. However, during my first visit to the new Bunn Thai Bistro in Grover Beach, I was immediately impressed by personable co-owner Tommy Buraparat. Not only does he handle waiting on the busy dining room all on his own, he does it with panache. Despite the pressure of a busy lunch on one of my visits, the overburdened man hustling between the kitchen and dining room maintained his pleasant demeanor. He was always courteous and friendly, and it was a day when most servers would have lost all patience.
- PHOTOS BY STEVE E. MILLER
- PLEASING TO THE EYE AND MOUTH : Three dishes from Bunn Thai in Grover Beach are bound to please: (1) Combo Fresh Roll, including the mango, strawberry, and avocado varieties; (2) Heaven on Earth, made with tilapia and real crab, with a mild Panang curry; (3) Andaman Pad Thai with jumbo shrimp, mussels, calamari and real crab.
Last March, Tommy and his sister and brother-in-law purchased the former Boonie Thai Cuisine II, renaming it Bunn Thai Bistro. As a former restaurateur in other parts of the United States, Tommy told me he’s also a cook, but he prefers waiting on customers. They transformed the modest strip-mall café into an upscale Thai eatery you’d expect to find in Bangkok or San Francisco. In fact, it’s much nicer than my former neighborhood favorite Thai café in San Francisco.
Pretty and colorful artwork creates a friendly, welcoming ambiance. The main portrait of an angel was created by Tommy’s niece Arocha, who lives in Bangkok. I prefer the comfortable booths that line the long, slender dining room, and they can accommodate larger parties. They also have two tables on the front patio, where a fire lantern keeps any chill away. After several visits, I was pleased to find that the food is definitely the draw. I must warn everyone that this place has been discovered, and it is very busy, so timing can be a bit slow. It’s not for the impatient type.
Yet I still recommend Bunn Thai highly. Everything I tried was delicious, and I appreciated the fact that they offer something for everybody, whatever your preference—including vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free. Most dishes on the menu offer a choice of hormone-free chicken, beef, pork, organic tofu, salmon, tilapia, and basa (a type of catfish native to Southeast Asia). Some dishes feature a mixture of seafood that includes shrimp, mussels, calamari, and scallops.
Like all good restaurants, the lunch specials are the best value, yet I found the pricing quite reasonable considering the quality and freshness of the food. A full page is devoted to lunch specials, offering two choices: one chosen entrée with soup du jour or house salad for $8.50, or two entrée choices with soup or salad for $9.50 (the latter entrées are cut in size so that both choices equal one whole serving). It’s a good deal no matter which you choose.
We arrived hungry for a late lunch, and our meal started with the house salad of fresh baby lettuces, julienned carrot, and sliced cucumber. I chose peanut dressing over the miso dressing. The fresh salads were quite tasty; I was impressed there were no wilted leaves, unlike with some cooks who don’t remove inferior produce. We both ordered the double entrée. I chose pad Thai with prawns and kung pao with chicken. Both portions seemed generous, and both were delicious. The pad Thai, mostly noodles, had delicious medium-sized prawns with scrambled egg, broccoli, carrots, onions, and garlic with garnishes of fresh bean sprouts and chopped peanuts. The kung pao, mostly white chicken with dark thigh chunks, had onion, bell peppers, zucchini, water chestnuts, peanuts, and dried chiles. We asked for medium-spicy, and the cooks did a good job of making it piquant, but not on fire.
My husband Dan ordered ginger delight with pork and green curry with chicken. I loved his choices even more than mine, and they remained my favorites after several visits. Tommy had recommended the green curry as his favorite of the choices that include yellow and red curries. The rich green curry sauce was perfect, layered with flavors and spiced just enough to kick but not burn. The tender chunks of pork came with eggplant, snow peas, broccoli, zucchini, bell pepper, carrots, and basil leaves. As usual, Dan and I shared everything, and I highly recommend ordering family style to enjoy more of their delicious classic Thai dishes. During dinner, Dan and I relished the impeccably fresh kale salad ($8) and the mango fresh roll ($7), the Himalaya cashew stir-fry ($13 to $15, depending on protein choice), and the excellent sizzling seafood platter ($16). Bunn Thai offers authentic, deliciously fresh cuisine.
Contact Cuisine Columnist Kathy Marcks Hardesty at firstname.lastname@example.org.