NICHOLASVILLE — Three Suns Bistro began its long and popular run in the heart of Nicholasville. A few years ago, it moved to the Brannon Crossing shopping center, a smart choice for exposure and convenience. With the move has come an expansion: What was once an intimate little bistro is now a big, full-scale restaurant.
In fact, it is two venues in one, with a screen separating a small bar from a large dining area. If you count the alcove near the back, there is a third space, but that area near the kitchen door and restrooms seems segregated and neglected. The walls are eclectic with artwork and knickknacks. The décor includes a vintage stove. In short, there is no real unifying theme or design except for the incongruously dark ceiling and mini-blinds — not at all "sunny" — that envelop the interior and bring things together.
Ambience notwithstanding, Three Suns offers fare hard to find in Nicholasville, some of which is creative and fun.
For instance, there is no reason why the outside of edamame can't taste as good as the beans inside, especially since vegetarians get short shrift so often. Frying boiled edamame might be unnatural, but it guarantees that some of the delicious ponzu chili sauce, nutty, salty and citrusy, clings to the pods.
The white bean dip topped with melted cheddar is a cross between hummus without the tahini and nachos without the mess. It is served with chips called "sheritos," salted in house with hybridized flavors resembling barbecue seasoning and chili powder.
Salads are good, too. The Caesar, while not special, uses crisp, chilled romaine, and diced green pepper made the simple crunchy coleslaw, lightly bathed with oil, more interesting.
At lunch, main dishes are accompanied by grilled garlic toast, rich with broiled butter. Day or night, however, meals include enormous helpings of fresh green vegetables, from baby spinach to broccoli to haricots verts. They look especially pretty beside — and balance out the sweetness of — the deep-fried praline chicken breast entree.
If the kitchen has one vice, it is sometimes salt, which I don't particularly mind. The lobster bisque, a decadent cup of creamy soup, was one example, not at all helped by the absence of any lobster meat. The sauces, too, seem to rely on sodium-laden broths. The salty almond crust on the tilapia, in spite of its nice bread-crumb texture, somehow brought attention to the fish's stint in a freezer.
For seafood, salmon is the better choice, perfectly roasted and flaky. It comes with a pedestrian rice pilaf, but you can substitute smashed potatoes — not a classic pairing, but much more delicious. They are also fantastic, and totally at home, under the seared meatloaf that reminded me of meatballs. The portobello mushroom sauce watered down the potatoes though, and again, it added unnecessary saltiness.
At dessert, the triple chocolate cake a la mode needed neither the touch of weak caramel syrup nor the scoop of hard and sticky vanilla ice cream. It was lovely all by itself: moist, dense and chocolaty, almost like pudding.
If you usually order wine, ask questions and check out the bottle. The wine list does not mention vintages. I don't know how often it is updated, but at least one of the lighter whites was 6 years old — not a safe bet in an era of drink-immediately pinot grigios.
Three Suns Bistro has successfully survived at least one big change over the years. With just a bit more focus on details and some brighter paint, I'll bet it will be around for many more.
Wendy Miller is a Lexington-based food and spirits writer and critic.