Dining » Restaurant Reviews

Lotus Position

The name's different, the menu is the same, and the drive is still far, far east.


I'm embarrassed to admit that I've lived in Kansas City for over two decades but, until recently, had never thought of driving to Blue Springs, the little town on the other side of Raytown. In fact, when I decided to go to a Thai restaurant on 7 Highway, I realized that I had been getting Blue Springs and Blue Ridge — the site of the now-razed Blue Ridge Mall — mixed up. When you add Little Blue Parkway into the equation, I'm all but blue in the face.

That's why my friends Cynthia and Lorraine practically insisted on driving the night we ventured out to Bua Thai, the snazzy year-old restaurant located a block or so off the Interstate 70 exit for Highway 7. They knew that if I were driving, we'd wind up in Sedalia.

But now that I've learned a few things about Blue Springs, I'm fascinated by the 126-year-old community, which was named for the freshwater springs that flow — or used to flow, anyway — into the Little Blue River. I still haven't seen the historic part of town, where the Dillingham-Lewis home is located. That house, which turns 100 this spring, is now a museum and was once home to liquor-hating Narra Lewis. Lewis was Missouri's counterpart to the infamous Carrie Nation, the first tavern terrorist, who took a hatchet and smashed up a bar in Kiowa, Kansas, in 1900 (the first of her many attacks around the country). Lewis stuck closer to home and used her little hatchet only once, causing havoc in a Blue Springs saloon. That's a story that's still part of local lore today.

Lewis' anti-alcohol activity didn't resonate, because modern-day Blue Springs has plenty of watering holes. There's even a well-stocked bar at the back of Bua Thai for patrons who might want to accompany their phad graprow beef with a cocktail — maybe the "Thai-Tanic," made with vodka, melon liqueur, triple sec, and pineapple juice.

I was shivering on the night we stepped out of the cold and into the maroon-colored Bua Thai dining room. I needed something hot and soothing, such as the slightly vanilla-scented Thai tea. There's no tea quite like it, this orange-colored blend of finely cut Chinese black tea and a powder made from crushed star anise pods. The star anise gives the brew just a hint of licorice, cinnamon and vanilla. Some purists insist that it be prepared Bangkok-style, with sweetened condensed milk, but I drink it straight.

I was dining with two tall women, and I'm not exactly petite, so we had to pass on a nice, padded booth when we realized that every single one of them had been built to accommodate two healthy adults — or four extremely small children. I like to think of myself as being more liberal and flexible in other matters, but I draw the line at uncomfortable seating arrangements.

After we settled around a cloth-covered table and gave the joint a proper once-over, I could understand why the seating (but not the dinner portions, thank God) was designed for the slender physique. The restaurant's handsome owner, Teerapha "Don" Chaiprathum, is almost as thin as a soaking-wet Scott Weiland.

Chaiprathum worked as a waiter in this restaurant in its previous incarnation, as one of the Liberda family's Thai Place restaurants. When Ann Liberda put the business up for sale in 2005, Chaiprathum bought it, gave the interior a makeover and changed the name. "Bua," he explained to me, "is the Thai word for lotus flower."

The Bua Thai menu, however, is nearly a Siamese twin of the one used by the four Thai Place restaurants, with some slight name changes. The dish known as King & Ann chicken at the Thai Place is King & I chicken here. The Thai Place catfish has been recast as the Bua Thai catfish, and the combination appetizer plate called the Far East Trio at Ann Liberda's restaurants is called the Three Kings in Blue Springs. To Chaiprathum's credit, Bua Thai maintains the same high culinary standards of its predecessor. The food at Bua Thai is visually pleasing and delicious.

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