Duane Hagadone has decided to bring a little of the Orient to little Coeur d'Alene in the form of the new Bonsai Bistro. The restaurant is a Coeur d'Alene Resort property, housed in a renovated '70s concrete building just across the street from the resort. Its angular windows seem to magnify the lake views. The interior is stylishly understated, with warm earth tones complementing the chic lighting. In warmer weather, there's an intriguing below-street-level Japanese-style garden for outdoor dining. A water feature adds to the soothing interior d & eacute;cor. In bistro fashion, the busy crew of white-toqued chefs can be seen behind the counter, with occasional bursts of flame adding to the ambience.
The Bistro is a popular place and they don't take reservations, so be prepared to take one of their light-up beepers and enjoy a stroll before your table is ready. Or you might be able to score one of the 10 seats at the bar to while away your wait.
On a recent Saturday night, our foursome cobbled together three chairs in the entry and enjoyed a round of drinks before getting word that our table -- "a nice one by the window" -- was ready.
The Bonsai Bistro specializes in "pan-Asian cuisine," and the menu features elements of Japanese, Chinese, Malaysian, Vietnamese and Thai cuisine. Items are marked with one star for spicy and two stars for extra spicy. Edamame ($8) blanched in ginger broth and tossed with sea salt sounded like a good starter, as did the wok-seared cashew chicken lettuce wraps ($8), which our server said were the most popular appetizer. We wanted to try the fried crab rolls ($9). Little squares of wonton wrapper were filled with a crab-cream cheese mixture, pulled up into a pouch and deep-fried to a golden crunch. These were tasty little numbers, especially with the sweet (but hot) chili dipping sauce. We also ordered the Thai coconut curry hot and sour soup ($7) and asked for four bowls. Although there was plenty of soup for the four of us, it was a big disappointment in the taste department. Instead of the fragrant, aromatic infusion of flavors that characterizes Thai soups, this was little more than chicken broth with a few spoonfuls of curry powder, along with some chunks of uncooked tomato, some thin slices of shrimp and chicken. I didn't find any of the promised fresh basil, which probably wouldn't have helped this weak effort anyway.
We didn't have time to dwell on the soup, however, as our pretty platters of entrees began arriving as soon as we'd finished the starters. On the advice of our server, we ordered the Vietnamese salt and pepper prawns ($17) and General Tso's chicken ($12). Both turned out to be winners. The prawns were the favorite of our table, with the crispy salt and pepper coating lighter and more flavorful than tempura. They were so good that a dip in the mustard-lime-cilantro dipping sauce actually detracted from their honest, robust flavor.
General Tso's chicken (one star on the spicy scale) featured a pungent kick without all the deep-fried breading that comes on the grocery store deli version of this classic. Our only regret was that there wasn't enough sauce to juice up our steamed rice.
The ginger chicken and broccoli ($12) was a lovely dish, with the bright green steamed broccoli ringing the plate around a mound of tender chicken in a delicate and flavorful ginger sauce. This dish was straightforward and a pleasure to eat.
We also tried the Shanghai chow fun ($12), which incorporated wide Chinese noodles and beef with onion and mushrooms in a garlic ginger sauce. This dish was a bit understated in both appearance and taste. Some bursts of color and flavor might have made it more exciting.
To "kick it up a notch," we tried one of the two-star items on the menu, the crispy beef Szechuan ($13). This was hot and tingly, with lots of julienne carrots and celery, green onions and bean sprouts in a spicy sweet and sour soy sauce. The veggies were barely-cooked crisp and added a welcome burst of coolness in counterpoint to the hot beef.
For dessert, we tried two of the three offerings (our server flat-out stated he didn't like the green tea ice cream, so we steered away from that). The Mount Fuji cake was a chocolate torte with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and topping of marshmallow cream and hot fudge. In short, this wasn't so much rich as it was just way too sweet. In contrast, the coconut cr & egrave;me brulee was creamy and, for once, adulterating cr & egrave;me brulee with another flavor actually worked. The rich, subtle coconut flavor provided a fitting conclusion to our tour of Asian cuisine.
We particularly enjoyed the repartee with our server, Chad, whose insight into the menu proved to be correct throughout the evening. It would be fun to try the Chef's Table if you have a party of 10. Here the chef will prepare a selection of specialties for $40 per person. In this case, reservations are recommended.
The Bonsai Bistro is a fun restaurant with a cool concept. Kids are welcome, and even get to play with mini Magna Doodles while they wait for their meals. From foods that are mild and comfortable to fiery and stylish, there is something for everyone on the menu. So get in line.
Publication date: 09/30/04