In my favorite movie, The Big Lebowski, Maud’s chauffeur tells an old vaudeville joke that starts with a litany of miseries and wraps up with the punch line, “But you know me — I can’t complain.”
Well, lately, faithful readers, that joke has been my life. My dear dog died, I lost my day job (you know, the one that pays the bills), I got food poisoning and I broke a tooth ... all since the start of 2009. Is the universe out to get me? What’s up with my karma?
Turns out that the best luck I’ve had lately has been a visit to Karma, an Asian bistro in the Anderson Towne Center. With tastes from Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and China, Karma is a lucky find.
Owning a business and working together might be a tough test for most newlyweds, but it’s working for Noi and Sa Sithideth, proprietors of Karma. Noi, whose sister owns Mekong Thai Cuisine in Kenwood, developed the menu and has broadened the Thai selections by including dishes from his Laotian heritage. According to Sa, the most noticeable difference between the two is that Thai food is sweeter, with the dominance of coconut milk in many of its sauces.
I had one of my favorite sweet drinks at Karma: strong iced coffee served with condensed milk and whipped cream. My friends shared a little sake.
There’s an excellent selection of appetizers on the menu, so we tried to taste a variety, and there were no bad choices. The Thai Stuffed Chicken Wings ($4) were a big hit. The wings had been boned and stuffed with pork sausage, then crisply fried and served on a bed of carrots and lettuce with dipping sauces that were spicy but not overwhelming
True tofu aficionados can appreciate Fried Tofu ($5) triangles on their own merit, but even the skeptics appreciated these as sauce-delivery devices. Another surprising sauce came with the Cheese Rolls ($5). The rolls were thin, crisp cigars with a filling like Crab Rangoon, but the dipping sauce had a hint of strawberry that I really enjoyed. We also had some of the best Summer Rolls ($5) I’ve had in a while, with sweet pink shrimp showing through the rice skins.
No matter what entrée you choose, I recommend that you spring for an order of Lao Fried Rice ($9) to share. We tried this out of curiosity, but I would definitely call it a must-have. Don’t miss the savory rice seasoned with holy basil and topped with a fluffy blanket of omelet. Laotian food is heavy on jalapenos, but they are easy to set aside if you’re not into them.
I went for another Laotian dish as well: Yum Neua Nahm Tok ($14), a delicious steak salad spiced with lemongrass, chilis and limejuice. Perfect for a low-carb meal, it winds up being a little bit like lettuce wraps as you near the bottom of the plate.
We also had a taste of Vietnam, with a big bowl of beef Pho ($9) garnished with cilantro. I’d be happy to live next door to a pho shop so that I could have it almost daily — it’s one of my personal comfort foods.
On our server’s recommendation, my vegetarian guest chose Pad Ke Mow ($11) — also called Drunken Noodles — with tofu, plenty of broccoli and thick rice noodles like the ones I love in Lad Nar. For a chicken dish, we loved the Kai Ka Prao ($13), another Karma special stir-fry with Thai basil and lots of onions and peppers.
I’m glad we squeezed in dessert — it was brilliant. Warm sticky rice ($4) topped with pumpkin custard on the night of our visit. It’s usually mango, but the pumpkin worked well.
Karma is in a small space on an interior corner of the Anderson Towne Center near Macy’s. I’d guess that the maximum capacity is probably 30 people, so if you have a large party, call ahead. The same menu is served at lunch and dinner.
Sa Sithideth told me that the restaurant’s name came from their commitment to taking the high road and staying positive in spite of adversity. Good advice. I think that after a bowl of their lovely pho and a serving of that sticky rice dessert, I could keep facing down my bad mojo, broken tooth and all, one day at a time.
KARMA ASIAN BISTRO
Go: 7418 Beechmont Ave., Anderson Twp.
Hours: Lunch 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday; dinner: 5-10 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday
Entrée Prices: $9-$15
Payment: Major credit cards
Red Meat Alternatives: Plenty of vegetarian options