Boun Lao Thai Bistro
5111 N Beech St, Ste 180, FW. 682-647-1197. 11am-9pm Mon-Thu, 11am-9:30pm and 11pm-2am (limited menu) Fri-Sat. All major credit cards accepted.
The food history of Southeast Asia tells a story of foreign culinary traditions brought to the region by waves of conquering Europeans. The cuisines of Thailand, Vietnam, and Laos all bear the stamp of French occupation.
A significant number of ethnic Laotians live in northern Thailand, and hallmarks of both cuisines include noodles, sticky rice, kaffir lime, and lemongrass. In fact, the Thai fare you’ve been eating all these years is significantly influenced by Laotian food ways.
Fittingly, Boun Lao Thai Bistro is housed in a quasi-industrial strip mall in North Fort Worth, not near the Asian food supercenter that is Haltom City. The tidy bistro sits near a sports bar and a tattoo parlor – a perfect metaphor for the adaptability of the cuisine. The restaurant is decked out in muted hues of green, black, and gold, and it’s heavy on the lotus flower and elephant motifs.
The crispy tofu appetizer came out creatively presented, standing in a cup like thick-cut French fries, as opposed to the usual cubed presentation that looks like a boring game of Tetris. The longer shape meant more crunchy fried surface area and less soft tofu center, which was fabulous. The accompanying tamarind reduction was delightfully sweet-tart. Ordered as a second appetizer for our table of three, the shrimp-and-lemongrass soup perfumed the dining room with its aromatic galangal root and lemongrass fragrance. The slightly acidic red-tinged broth had a little kick, even spiced to a two out of five. Two plump shrimp (plenty for a small cup of soup) floated amid the tomato, cilantro, and sliced mushrooms.
Massaman curry with tofu is a fairly standard Thai dish. The mild curry came with the usual par-boiled potatoes, carrots, and onions stewed until they were soft. Boun’s chef added sliced avocado, which supplied a nice, creamy texture to the al dente carrots and soft potatoes, and the creamy cinnamon-kissed broth was the perfect sweet, comforting complementary note.
The cashew nut shrimp is a house specialty, and the chili tamarind sauce was incredibly fiery –– also at a level two out of five. The dish was more like a soup than an entrée, with the fiery tamarind chile sauce engulfing the shrimp and crunchy cashews. Fortunately, the entrée was served with a hillock of rice that absorbed some of the heat and sauce.
Ordering a traditional Laotian dish seemed appropriate, so we attempted the kow poon nam siin. The rice noodle soup’s heavy beef broth was lightened by sprigs of mint and slices of lime. The flavor profile was perfect gastronomic symmetry: a complex layering of salty, slightly bitter, and spicy flavors. The slices of braised beef (almost like brisket) were tender, if few and far between. Although it wasn’t a menu-advertised component, the bowl also included traditional pork blood sausage. The meat had the texture of firm tofu and the deep, galvanic taste of iron –– it’s beloved in Laos, but I failed to see the attraction. Like pho (which is also on the menu), the plate was adorned with bean sprouts on top. The hearty broth made it easy to slurp the soup and noodles without worrying too much about what was floating in the mix.
For dessert, mango sticky rice is subject to seasonal availability, and the sweet treat was delicious. A scoop of purple bean-infused rice and a scoop of coconut broken rice arrived covered with ripe mango slices and drizzled with coconut cream. Sticky rice desserts are sort of like the cuisine as a whole – using leftover parts and a grain of imagination to make something gloriously tasty.
Boun offers a late-night weekend menu of mostly pho soups. It’s kind of an exotic happy hour for those stumbling out of the tattoo parlor or the sports bar, and it’s much more attractive than the Waffle House up the street. Last call for soup, anyone?
Boun Lao Thai Bistro
Crispy tofu $6
Shrimp and lemongrass soup $5
Massaman curry $10
Kow poon nam sin $10
Cashew nut shrimp $12
Mango sticky rice $5