First Bites: Bua Hana in Forest Park

Citizens of Oak Park-Elmwood Park seem to favor Thai cuisine above all others.

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By David Hammond

The good citizens of Oak Park-Elmwood Park seem to favor Asian restaurants in general (we have about two dozen in the immediate area) and Thai restaurants above all others. In our adjoining towns we have no less than four restaurants serving Thai food on a roughly half-mile stretch of Madison Street.

Bua Hana is more than just Thai, though; it's also sushi. I have to say, I'm always a little leery of places that try to do too much (it's kind of like clock radios that also function as CD players and coffee pots: can they really do all those things well?). Though Bua Hana may have excellent Japanese food, we preferred to focus on the Thai.

Tofu is, of course, common at Japanese places, but what's called "Thai style" tofu is frequently deep fried. At Bua Hana, they follow the Thai model and drop cubes of the bean curd into hot fat, which crisps up the outside nicely. With a little dipping sauce, this is a good summer app or even entrée, very light and, with a few sauces, tasty. I mention sauces because tofu on its own is not full of flavor (though the frying helps).

If I were the food police, I'd have to cite the maker of Bua Hana's papaya salad for insufficiently pounding the hell out of the ingredients. I think a key to a well-made papaya salad is to relentlessly flog the components until everything gets somewhat soft and the flavors merge.  The papaya salad at Bua Hana had all the right components, but they were not beaten together to create the kind of unified mess of deliciousness that I believe is required of this classic Thai salad.

The red curry did not wuss out on the heat; it had some respectable burn, and I was glad to see that they didn't skimp on key components like kaffir lime leaf, a less common ingredient that some Thai places short-cut out of their recipes.

On one of the hottest nights of the year, Bua Hana was cool and comfortable, and the room is nice enough.  Although the menu offered few surprises, it is large, with many standard Thai and Japanese selections, it's likely to please many.

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