by Alice Levitt
2033 Essex Road, Williston, 879-0251
This week, I wrote about Guild & Company in South Burlington and the transporting effect of its dining room. On Saturday, I visited another restaurant with a vibe all its own. Unlike Guild, though, Honey Thai Restaurant in Williston isn't so much big-city destination as Mad Hatter's Tea Party — in Thailand.
The sign at right should give you an idea of the design of the dining rooms. The front is unassuming enough, with dark colors and ethnic touches. But the huge back room, most recently home to Douzo Japanese Steakhouse, Sushi Bar, Martini Bar and Thai Cuisine, is all bright colors and shining blue Christmas lights. Imagine a great birthday party at an Asian karaoke bar —sans arrests for public drunkenness — and you've got the idea.
The front dining room was mostly full when we arrived, but our friendly server quickly took our order.
My cup of tom kha gai soup came out almost immediately. Though it had no real heat to speak of, despite its half-chili rating on the menu, the broth was delicious. A large dose of kaffir lime lent the coconut-based broth an extra nudge of much-appreciated acid. Unfortunately, the hard, inedible leaves stayed in the soup and were, at times, difficult to avoid.
A hard chunk of galangal (blue ginger) — more than a cubic inch of it — had the same effect. The flavor was much appreciated, but it made for another inedible thing to be avoided in the small bowl.
What I could eat was delicious, including tender chicken and mushrooms and cilantro leaves that further brightened the already fresh-tasting, lemongrass-inflected potage. With a little skimming on the part of the kitchen, this could have been a big winner.
Then things got weird. I had ordered the Spicy Steak from the surf and turf portion of the menu. Just as the server was about to leave the plate on our table, he whisked it away, visibly concerned. For the next several (probably 15 or 20) minutes, he checked back at our table, apologizing profusely and saying that the kitchen kept making the wrong thing. Linguistic barriers made it impossible for me to really understand what was going on. Finally, with more apologies, which continued to the point of annoyance throughout my meal, he presented me with what I'm fairly certain was the Ginger Steak. By that time, I wasn't going to make any waves.
The steak itself was almost as much gristle as it was meat, but for $12.95, what did I expect? The beef was topped with a pile of ginger matchsticks, which also flavored its light sauce. Onions and peppers were tender and soaked up the sauce pleasingly.
Next time, I'll be more likely to order one of the duck dishes. While I waited for my third (or fourth?) steak, a friend at another table gave me some of his Spicy Duck. The drumstick was crisp and masterfully seasoned and the mildly spicy sauce sang with fresh basil.
Another friend at yet another table praised the Drunken Noodles, declaring them even spicier than those at Tiny Thai. Similarly, we were impressed with our pad Thai.
The rice noodles were ideally al dente and dressed in a golden sauce that tasted almost as much of dank fish sauce as it did of tamarind and sugar. This was a grown-up pad Thai, with little of the cloying taste that one too-often finds in the area. It was also appealingly full of crisp sprouts, tender chicken and just enough fried egg.
My still mysteriously repentant server — full of apologetic shoulder rubs — brought the table a free plate of fried bananas. The eggrolls filled with banana, then covered in honey and whipped cream, were fine, but I would have preferred a taste of the Thai custard.
When I return for the Spicy Duck and pad Thai, hopefully no apologies will be necessary.
Alice Eats is a weekly blog feature devoted to reviewing restaurants where diners can get a meal for two for less than $35. Got a restaurant you'd love to see featured? Send it to email@example.com.