Malinee Kiatathikom appreciates good seafood, having grown up in Thailand next to the ocean.
That’s why she makes an effort to fly in the freshest oysters, scallops, tuna, halibut and more for Issara, the new restaurant in southwest Lincoln.
And that’s why Issara is fast becoming one of the best places -- if not the best -- for seafood in Lincoln.
The seared scallops ($21.95), for instance, is a must-try. The entree features five dollar-sized Maine diver scallops served with a sweet passion fruit sauce, steamed white rice and, during my visit, pea sprouts.
The kitchen also garnished my plate with a yellow habanero pepper to provide some color to the entree.
It was, in a word, delicious.
Kiatathikom and her husband, Witawas Srisa-An, a computer science professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, opened Issara on Sept. 17. They also own one of Lincoln’s top restaurants in the Blue Orchid in downtown Lincoln.
“I wanted to do more,” Kiatathikom said. “I enjoy serving. I enjoy the restaurant business. We have a good staff (at Blue Orchid). They wanted to do a new project, too. It just made business sense to expand.”
Issara’s menu is a mix of Blue Orchid favorites and pan-Asian cuisine. Kiatathikom promised the menu will change periodically.
“We would do specials at Blue Orchid and have a hard time selling them,” she said. “A lot of people came for specific things on the menu. I like to explore new things and have my customers try new things.”
The menu features several unique pork, duck, beef and seafood options.
My wife and I ventured into the unknown during our visit and came away extremely pleased, starting with our server’s recommendation of the papaya crisp ($8.95) as an appetizer.
A green papaya was shredded and lightly battered and served with a spicy Thai chili sauce. The papaya reminded us of onion strips or rings, only milder.
For our entrees, I enjoyed the aforementioned scallops -- some of the best I’ve had in Lincoln. My wife savored the chuchee salmon ($17.95). The salmon steak was cooked with fingerroot spiced red curry, tomato and bamboo shoots. The curry is evident, but not overwhelming.
We finished our meal with a slice of coconut cake ($6). Issara has a pastry chef, who used fresh coconut for this sweet, sweet dessert. Try it with some white port as we did. You won’t be disappointed. Grade: A
My wife and I enjoyed exceptional service. Of course, our server was Natalie Baskins, who has made a career of food service. She’s worked at a number of Lincoln’s top restaurants, dating back to Crane River in the 1990s, from where I first remembered her. She was extremely knowledgeable of the menu and offered suggestions.
The restaurant is managed by Charles Ludwig, who is one of two sommeliers in Lincoln. Issara’s wine list is extensive, so you may want to touch base with him, as we did.
I wanted a nonfruity red with a hint of chocolate. The perfect cabernet, he said, is being added to the roster this weekend, so he recommended a merlot from Seven Falls ($29). We enjoyed it. It was rich and heavy. Grade: A
Diners will like what they see. The owners again turned to architect Greg Munn, who helped them design the Blue Orchid. They also praised Brager Construction for its work in implementing their ideas.
Highlights include tubular skylights, which throw off rainbows during the day; wavy ceiling tiles which, combined with the carpet, absorb sound; and gorgeous paintings from Thai artists. Each table has a different kind of a fresh flower -- a very nice touch. Grade: A
Extremely. Six of Issara’s eight “classic” entrees are vegetarian. Many of these are dishes featuring egg or rice noodles in different, savory sauces. Among the “main courses” are three veggie dishes, including a roasted eggplant ($12.95) topped with a sweet peanut sauce. Two soups -- tom yum and tom kha -- are carryovers from Blue Orchid. Grade: A