The Missus and I had the chance to have a rare date night last night. We decided to dine at the brand new Issara (pronounced it-SAH-rah), located around 17th and Pine Lake Road. Here's a first look.
Issara is a sister restaurant to Downtown's hugely popular Blue Orchid. The two restaurants share many characteristics but, taking a cue from its name (which means "freedom" in Thai), Issara exists in part to expand beyond traditional fare. The restaurant hasn't yet had its grand opening, so its present menu is temporary and incomplete. I'm eager to see how it evolves over time.
The interior is wide open with nary a divider in sight. The floor is carpeted, while the exposed ceiling is softened by hanging panels and decorative bulbs. Tasteful artwork hangs on the walls, including a black-on-white piece hanging over our booth that I particularly enjoyed (but I foolishly forgot to photograph).
The tables and chairs are a beautiful wood. Though they are heavy and sturdy, I worry about the durability of their finish; I noted the back of the booth next to us had already been scratched to hell by somebody's belt. Each table is topped with water glasses, black napkins, heavy silverware, and a small vase of fresh flowers.
As I noted above, the menu is not yet complete. That doesn't mean there aren't plenty of choices. Absent are Blue Orchid's extensive selection of curries and stir fries, but in their place are excellent options like stuffed calamari, yakisoba, and a couple fine duck dishes. Also notable are the prices. Relative to Blue Orchid prices are a fair bit higher, extending well into the 20s in a few cases. That's not absurd for a fine dining establishment, but it may catch off guard folks who are used to Blue Orchid's less expensive fare.
The Missus went with a grilled seafood salad ($12.95). The salad was served with not one but three different dressings. Each was extremely tasty, but a warning: the green dressing (top left in the photo) is very spicy and not for the faint of heart. The veggies were fresh and most of the seafood was excellent, but The Missus noted that the calamari was on the chewy side.
Meanwhile I went with the basil duck ($18.95). It featured a half duck topped with basil, onion, garlic, ginger, jalapeno and a fantastic medium-spicy sauce. It was served with white rice on the side. I have very little experience with duck so I don't have much to compare to, but for me the dish was love at first bite. The meat was moist and flavorful. The skin was just a bit crispy (though softened of course by the sauce). The smell was intoxicating. My stomach encouraged me to stop eating just over halfway through, but my tastebuds demanded I finish. So I did, of course.
There's no doubt Issara will be a success. Blue Orchid's coat tails will boost its early days, and it will gradually form its own identity. The Issara experience isn't perfect just yet -- for example the hosts and servers, though well trained, still have a few rough edges -- but that won't stop Lincolnites from arriving in droves.