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Thai Touch on Melrose

October 10, 1985|BARBARA HANSEN | Times Staff Writer

Bussarakum is beautiful, much more beautiful than is typical of Thai restaurants in Los Angeles. Wonderful colors like orchid, peach, pink, black and gray blend with fresh flowers (even in the ladies' room), a mirror-like ceiling, airy view windows and sparkling white linens to create a sophisticated, dressy look.

But, then, your everyday homespun Thai restaurant wouldn't fit this location on the Melrose Avenue boutique belt.

There is another Bussaracum (spelled with a "c") in Bangkok. That Bussaracum is renowned for its presentation of exquisite royal Thai food. The two restaurants are not related, which is unfortunate. The Melrose restaurant could use an infusion of the Bangkok standards. Right now, its kitchen is erratic. One night the dishes were too bland. Another day they were too hot.

Good ideas go wrong in the execution. It is clever to present the noodle dish, pad Thai, wrapped like a package in an omelet. But it is not clever to blacken the omelet and overdose the noodles with chile. In a charming presentation, a foil packet is cut at the table into a basket, revealing assorted seafood on a base of bean threads. But it isn't charming to find the seafood dry and a portion of the packet scorched. Perhaps the next day things were better. That would be nice, but no consolation to the customer who paid $11.50 for the scorched package.

Part of the problem may be newness. The restaurant has been open a little more than two months. Let's hope that in another two months the kitchen settles down and works consistently on a level appropriate to the effort that went into designing the restaurant.

Bright Blend of Juices

Right now, you can get better mee krob elsewhere. But you can't go elsewhere for Bussarakum punch, a bright blend of juices that goes exceptionally well with spicy food, perhaps better than the pervasive milky Thai iced tea. And in these anti-sodium days, it would be hard to find a restaurant brave enough to add salt to its lemonade, a Thai technique practiced at Bussarakum. If the salt is not overdone, it makes the lemonade all the more thirst-quenching.

More than drinks is needed to make a menu, though, and Bussarakum does have some good dishes, probably more than I have been able to find in a handful of visits. Its crunchy rice appetizer, kao-tang na tang, is marvelous. The stuffed chicken wings are fine. And so is the satay, which arrives dramatically in flames.

Bussarakum serves the usual sour shrimp and chicken-coconut soups. Its specialty, though, is oxtail soup, a clear, sourish broth that contains potato, tomato, cilantro, onion and a few flecks of chile in addition to the oxtails.

Haw-mok, a Thai-style seafood mousse flavored with Asian spices and coconut milk, is lovely. It comes two ways, plain (haw-mok tale) or stuffed with mussels (haw-mok hoi).

Nau-sub, a rice noodle dish, has a lettuce base and an interesting sweet, slightly crunchy ground beef topping. But the seasoning was wrong when I had it. The dish fairly cried out for chiles to balance the sweetness and to match the word spicy in the menu description. In this case, moderation meant blandness. Honey duck is sweet, too, but the sweetness of its dark brown honey sauce is appropriate to the meat.

There is much more on the menu, and lunch specials make it possible to try such premium dishes as the honey duck and crab claws for a reasonable price that includes a salad and shrimp-fried rice.

To conclude, there is coconut ice cream, not the rich, creamy type usually encountered, but an icy version combined with corn kernels and jack fruit and so sharply cold it freezes your teeth. Despite the pain, I loved it.

Bussarakum, 7353 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles. Location is upstairs in a small shopping center. Phone (213) 651-0642 for reservations. Open Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to midnight, Sunday from 6 p.m. to midnight. Major credit cards accepted.

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