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Sunday, November 23, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 50.0° F  Fog/Mist
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The Bamboo Hut

Credit:Susan Kepecs

Occupation: Co-owner with wife May Lee

Where: The Bamboo Hut, 1318 Midvale Blvd.

Why you should go: For zingy, fresh, intriguing cuisine in a lovingly redone ex-doughnut shop at the Beltline end of Midvale.

When did Bamboo Hut debut?

On Nov. 1, last year. We're not doing a specific cuisine, like Thai or Laotian or Vietnamese. We're making our favorites from different parts of Southeast Asia. We have something new to offer Madison in that regard.

Our recipes come from our families, and also from traveling and trying different dishes. I'm from Laos, but my family came to Sheboygan when I was 16. My wife was born in Thailand, but she came here when she was a baby. We met as students at UW-Platteville. We both love to cook. We were always cooking for friends, colleagues and family. We believe good food brings people together to enjoy life.

We came to Madison in 2001. We had successful careers - I was in IT and my wife was an international student adviser. But we took a good look at our lives and decided what we really wanted to do was open a small restaurant where we could offer our specialties.

We couldn't afford a place downtown, and every time we go, we have problems parking. This place is just right for us, and you can park. It's working out well. We've gotten some good reviews, so people are getting to know us.

What's on the menu?

Well, no Laotian gathering would be complete without laap, which we do in chicken or beef, with chile, lime juice, green onions and mint. And I love a good Vietnamese pho - right now we've got a spring version on the menu, with baby bok choy in the broth, which gives it a unique, fresh flavor. Gado-gado's an Indonesian vegetable salad with peanut sauce - you barely cook the vegetables. It's my mother's favorite - we couldn't leave it off the menu.

The crispy stuffed chicken wings are her invention - I think it's a takeoff on the egg roll. We've been making egg rolls for years, trying different wrappers and ingredients. We mix cilantro and green onions with the traditional cabbage and pork, which adds lots of flavor. We also make both vegetarian and meat spring rolls. We mix very light meats like shrimp and crab, with cilantro, cucumbers and carrots, which add crunch and color. We never make 'em in advance - we wrap 'em fresh, so the wrappers are never tough.

The papaya salad, with shredded raw papaya, fish sauce and fermented crab, is exactly what you'd get in a street market in Laos or Thailand. Sometimes the fermented crab scares people, but we make everything to order, so you can ask us to leave it out, or to go easy on the peppers. I'm surprised when customers ask for it super hot, but the hotter the better, for me!

We make Laotian-style spicy ginger sausage. I remember my parents preparing it when I was little. It's very tasty, filled with pork, green onions, ginger, hoisin sauce, chili peppers. I've eaten a lot of American sausage, but nothing comes close to this. I believe we're the only restaurant in town to offer it.

I should mention our growing collection of Southeast Asian beers. And I bake. I do a coconut custard pie that I've been making since college, with coconut sugar and coconut milk - it's very special, and it sells out fast.

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