Saturday, January 24, 2009
"The Single Best Thai Restaurant in North America"
Not my words, Jonathan Gold's. But as the resident LA critic extraordinaire, Gold's recommendation certainly warranted an investigation. So on my post-new year's trip to Vegas, I convinced my friends to go Lotus of Siam. I can't say if S. Irene Virbila's claim "that there's nothing as good--or lip-numbingly hot in LA" is true since I haven't properly explored Thai Town in North Hollywood, but I can say that Lotus of Siam can be worth the trip.
I'll be the first to admit that I don't know enough about Thai food. I like the flavors in the cuisine, but I really don't have the exposure to write on it with any sort of authority. So when HC tipped me off about Lotus of Siam, I was slightly concerned that I wouldn't know good Thai food even while breathing in the rich aromas of lemongrass, tamarind, and the obligatory fish sauce. On that note, I came into the restaurant with a group of eight and just asked the waitress to give us her best recommendations.
As this was an impromptu trip, I apologize for the iPhone pictures. Our waitress brought out a platter of golden koong sarang, wonton and bacon wrapped prawns, perhaps their best dish of the night. I knew things were off to a good start as soon as I crunched into those crispy shrimp. You know the old spiel, "anything wrapped in bacon..." The grilled seabass papaya salad made me feel much better about the appetizer. There's always an accompanying guilt when eating things so indulgent as bacon shrimp, but the purity of the white fish on clean greens also did something to cleanse my spirit.
Although I asked for a soup tom yum soup, the waitress told me she'd being out the seafood soup pictured above. I'm not sure if this was a seafood tom yum or if it's some sort of different soup base altogether. Either way, it was hot and filled the mouth with a longing for another spoonful. On one of my friend's requests, we ordered the beef panang curry, which had a delightful richness of coconut milk and herbacious Thai basil.
I wasn't too excited with the crab fried rice. I couldn't taste nor see any crab pieces in the dish. The flavor wasn't especially memorable either. Maybe their pineapple fried rice would've been a better bet. Seeing the nua sao renu charbroiled beef with tamarind sauce on the online menu inspired me to order the same for our table. It may just look like a mountain of meat, but it's actually pre-sliced and easy to pick up. It was probably oversauced given the quality of the beef though.
Not quite full, we added fried garlic prawns after a request for more shrimp. I had never seen shrimp prepared this way, partially shelled, but still attached at the tail and then deep fried. It resulted in a sort of molting shrimp with edible shell. I still couldn't get through more than one shell though, it's too crunchy and indigestible. We additionally had the crispy duck over drunken noodles, another star for the night. The long flat pad se-ew noodles soaked up the sauce of the duck.
Our dessert of sticky rice, fried bananas and coconut ice cream was a well-rounded plate designed to bring those three components together. Different textures, such as the silky ice cream and the sticky rice contrasted with the crunchy batter of the bananas.
Now when I say that Lotus of Siam is worth a trip, I didn't necessarily mean a drive from Los Angeles. It's certainly worth a dinner from anywhere on the Strip (being about 3 miles off-Strip). But I wouldn't leave California for this food with the diverse Thai options here in town. Still, I wouldn't consider a foodie's visit to Vegas without a meal at "the best Thai restaurant in North America."
Lotus of Siam
953 E Sahara Avenue
Las Vegas, NV 89104
Reservations are best at least a day in advance, of course hardly anything in Vegas is so well-planned
$200 for eight people