Chef Bupar acquired her culinary prowess alongside her mother, who operated a street-side café in Bangkok for more than 20 years. Today, she draws on recipes she learned from her mother to conjure up the bustling, spice-tinged air of the city of her youth. The traditional Thai flavors of ginger, lemongrass, and garlic flood dishes and thick coconut milk helps lower the potency of red chilies in a range of curries to a pleasant warmth. Beneath the eatery’s saffron-hued walls and decorative greenery, bouquets of basil, cilantro, and fresh sprouts bestow portions of noodles and rice with textural variety.
Diners can sit outdoors if the weather and 80-foot sentient dragon statue permits, or enjoy after-dinner entertainment at the nearby Matthew Knight Arena. Downstairs in The Underground Lounge, diners can feast on the main restaurant’s full menu in a more casual atmosphere adorned with pool tables, HDTVs, and dartboards.
Sweet basil, a pungent and spicy herb with a flavor akin to cloves, originated in India, where it is believed to be a sacred protection against evil. The basil might not be fighting dark spirits at Sweet Basil restaurant, but things are going right for the eatery.
Aromas of fresh garlic, cilantro, and coconut milk waft across the cozy eatery, tempting customers to choose items such as garlic prawns, ba mee nam egg noodles, and three-flavor halibut. Deep-fried to a golden brown, the halibut comes topped with sweet-plum sugar, sour tamari, and garlic chili, making it a favorite of the Eugene Review. Dessert tempts tongues with a fried banana topped with powdered sugar and honey or with housemade coconut ice cream.
With more than 80 menu items hailing from stir-fried, curried, and benoodled disciplines, Rice runs the gamut of authentic Thai fare, often infusing signature dishes and specialties with its own twist. The wonton pad Thai hurls tradition out the window and into a passing tornado by tossing crispy wontons into a Thai stand-by ($11), while the lemongrass chicken, a house specialty, bathes delicately flavored grilled poultry in a luxurious peanut sauce coating ($9.50). The Indian-style gang mussamun curry, with potato, carrots, onions, and peanuts, stows away a spicy kick just like the other dishes of its kind, while scrumptious stir-fries range from the wholesome veggies delight to the decadent spicy cashew nut. Most stir-fries, curries, fried rice, and noodle dishes come with a choice of pork, chicken, beef, or tofu ($9), although diners can upgrade to shrimp, squid, and scallop ($10.50), or a combination of seafood ($13.50) rivaling the regal bounty of Poseidon's fly rod.
The bamboo steamers sit conspicuously behind the glass counter, spirals of steam escaping their closed lids as guests peer at the expansive menu and consider their options. There are three types of dumplings and four kinds of bao filled with the likes of barbecue pork, Szechuan chicken, coconut custard, and adzuki bean paste. In addition, the menu offers pad thai noodles and banh mi sandwiches. Guests sip loose-leaf teas to complement the meals, soaking in the sun from the large windows or out on the sidewalk patio.
In the kitchen of Thai Dish, chefs walk between steaming pans of thai barbecue sauce and woks full of sizzling eggplant as they prepare dishes ranging from pineapple stir-fry to a plateful of pale green curry. Nearby, intricate wood paneling and framed artwork surround the bar and dining room, where diners eagerly await colorful plates of meat, seafood, and veggies.