7418 Beechmont Ave.
We met up with friends on Friday evening to check out the newly opened Kar-Ma Asian Bistro, situated next door to Carrabbas at Anderson Towne Centre. The restaurant is quite small and might be considered cozy if it was not so chilly - most likely due to the fact that one whole wall is a bank of windows, making it a difficult space to heat. On a night where the temperature dipped into the teens, sitting next to a large window with little insulation isn't ideal. Luckily it is currently fashionable to wear winter scarves indoors.
The restaurant is tastefully decorated with teak wall hangings and soothing paintings, and little red votive candles glow brightly on each table.
Since the restaurant does not currently have a liquor license, we ordered a round of hot tea to warm ourselves up. Our waiter told us that if we wanted, he would hold our table while we nipped over to Kroger to grab a bottle of wine, but we declined and said we'd remember to bring our own next time. Rather than a pot of tea, we were given bags of organic green tea to steep in our cups, which would have been fine had the water been hot enough, but by the time our bags had steeped the tea was tepid at best. We were given a glass caraf - similar to a Bodum coffee press - of hot water to top up our tea as needed, but the caraf either wasn't designed to keep the water hot, or the water wasn't hot enough to begin with. Proper tea pots or insulated carafs would be a better option.
Wanting something to warm me up, I thought I might order some hot soup, but the waiter informed me that none were vegetarian. Too bad, but at least he was well informed and knew the menu, which was a plus. Instead, I decided upon a fried tofu appetizer, while Steve opted for fishcakes and Mike and Jennifer split a spring roll and an order of pot stickers.
The kitchen seemed to have trouble pacing the dishes and courses - none of our appetizers arrived at the same time, and by the time all four were on the table, mine, which had been the first to arrive, was no longer hot. Despite this, I thought the tofu was very good; firm wedges lightly browned in peanut oil and served on a bed of shredded carrot with a side of peanut sauce for dipping. Before we could eat, however, we needed napkins and cutlery, which were not on the table when we were seated. Our waiter apologized profusely and rectified the mistake quickly, bringing out chopsticks as well.
Steve found his fishcakes to be rubbery and unappealing, but Mike and Jen had better luck with their pot stickers and spring rolls, which they ate with great gusto.
I quizzed our waiter on which entrees were and were not vegetarian since the menu didn't specify, and was told that the restaurant does not use fish sauce or shrimp paste in their curries - a big plus for vegetarians and vegans. Since I had already had a green curry earlier in the week at Bangkok Bistro, I asked if any of their specialties were vegetarian and was told that the Pra-Ram was a completely vegan option. Intrigued, I decided to give it a try.
Pra-ram is a Thai peanut curry consisting of vegetables and lightly browned tofu stir-fried in peanut sauce and put atop a bed of baby spinach leaves. When the first two dishes arrived (as with the starters, the kitchen hadn't coordinated the timing of all four dishes correctly) the server who brought out the food incorrectly identified Jen's chicken-ginger stif-fry as my Pra-ram. As we sat waiting for the other two meals to arrive we pondered over whether or not the dish sitting in front of me was indeed praram, since there wasn't a hint of spinach to be found, and the "tofu" looked suspiciously like chicken. Steve tried a small bite and announced that it was definitely chicken, which was when the other two dishes arrived at the table and the heaping dish of tofu and veggies over baby spinach was placed in front of Jennifer. We swapped plates and tucked in.
Kar-Ma's heat scale for their dishes ranges from 1-3 and, feeling adventurous (plus I was still attempting to get warm), I went for broke and ordered mine as a 3. Three might be the hottest on their scale, but I found it to be rather mild - more like a three on a scale of 1-10. Steve and Mike both found their paad thai entrees to have no heat whatsoever. Even without the heat, I found the pra-ram full of peanut-y goodness and would certainly recommend it, as there was a nice juxtaposition of warm, crunchy veggies, chewy tofu and fresh baby spinach. Personally I thought there was a little too much peanut sauce in this dish, but not enough to detract from the overall taste.
Our table was surprised with two complimentary desserts, possibly to make up for the uneven service we had received, and those two plates more than made up for the chilly surroundings and poor timing.
The restaurant, owned by the same family that runs MeKong Thai in Sycamore Township, is still trying to find its footing, and I hope that they do.