Lotus of Siam – Las Vegas, NV

Food Adventures, Las Vegas

Martin and I are huge fans of Anthony Bourdain. His books Kitchen Confidential and Medium Raw speak to my lifestyle as a line cook, while his shows No Reservations and Parts Unknown have enabled us to vicariously explore the food and cultures of far-off places that we could only dream of visiting, all from the comfort of our couch. But when we watched his episode of Parts Unknown: Las Vegas, we knew that an accessible opportunity to follow his advice had finally come. On our most recent trip to Sin City, we went to Lotus of Siam.

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LoS is tucked away off the Strip in an unassuming commercial district a few blocks away from the shiny new SLS Hotel (it replaced the Sahara). The parking lot is HUGE and believe it or not, one of the country’s best Thai restaurants is flanked by a mish-mash of establishments including other restaurants like Korean barbecue and small businesses like a billiards parlor and a beauty school. From what we hear, this place always has a line out the door at any given time during their hours of operation, so it seemed that luck was on our side then when we were seated right away on that Monday afternoon. (Protip: lunch is served on weekdays only.)

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The single most important piece of advice I can give (and Bourdain has said this himself) is to order from the last four pages of the menu — Northern Thai specialties. My eyes widened at every menu description and it was hard to pick just a few to try on this visit but we chose the crispy garlic prawns, crispy duck in panang curry, and soft shell crab over drunken noodles. I had to convince Martin to get the three dishes to share between us (I wanted to throw in the khao soi as well but that will have to wait for another time); it was way too much food for just two people but I regret nothing. As I stared sadly at the leftovers that we would be unable to bring with us on the desert drive home, Martin couldn’t help but give me his “I told you so” look. I guess that is my only regret: not having the leftover panang curry sauce over rice the next day for lunch.

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We started with Thai iced tea. The tea mixture, we learned, is pre-sweetened (and quite sweet) so we got ours with extra ice and half-and-half to mellow it out. Still a bit sweet for my taste but I usually consider it to be more of a special treat than a regular beverage anyway. Then the feast arrived at our table like a grand procession.

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First came the garlic prawns. The prawns themselves were giant, and each one was delicately peeled so that the shell remained attached but exposed the body to its own layer of batter and seasoning. The shells were crispy, flaky, and completely edible — the menu description called them “almost like potato chips!” The prawns were juicy and perfectly cooked. It was reminiscent of a Chinese-Vietnamese dish (salt & pepper shrimp, or tôm rang muối) but solved the ever-present problem of seasoning only the outside (and often inedible) parts of the shrimp while leaving the meat inside bland. (Flavored sunflower seeds frustrate me for the same reasons.)

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I’m a noodle fiend so one of our dishes just had to feature the flat steamed rice noodles. We got the drunken noodles with soft shell crab; the crab was crispy, deep fried, and drenched in the fragrant pad kee mao sauce. Tossed in with the pan-fried noodles were julienned bell pepper and plenty of Thai basil, my favorite! We got the most mild option so Martin could comfortably partake, but I’d love to try this again with a higher spice level.

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Perhaps the most talked-about dish here is the crispy duck in panang curry — crispy duck gently laid atop a pool of red curry cream sauce bearing a hint of cognac. The duck was incredible — the fat rendered perfectly so that the skin crisped up while the meat remained tender and succulent, almost like a confit. The sauce of coconut milk and red curry was so aromatic that I could eat just that drizzled over plain rice for weeks. Again, we ordered this at the lowest spice level but I will have to try it again with more kick.

Chef Saipin Chutima was awarded Best Chef: Southwest by the James Beard Foundation in 2011. She is an incredible woman and I am so glad that she was recognized for the amazing food she creates. The next time you find yourself in Sin City, be sure to venture off the Strip for an epicurean experience you won’t soon forget.

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Check out Lotus of Siam: lotusofsiamlv.com

953 East Sahara Avenue, Suite A5
Las Vegas, NV 89104

See their Yelp reviews here!

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Thai Boom – Palms, CA

Food Adventures, Los Angeles

Thai Food Friday. One of my and Martin’s favorite food traditions. We try to cook at home as often as we can, but sometimes, after a long week, you just want to unwind and let someone else bring you some hot, delicious, ready-to-eat food. We used to live less than a block away from Thai Boom, a little hole-in-the-wall mom & pop restaurant located right on the busy Venice Boulevard thoroughfare, and luckily, our new place is still within the delivery radius. Thanks to its impressively extensive menu featuring typical Thai dishes (pad thai, pad see ew, rad na, and the like), more traditional Thai dishes (tod mun and fish maw soup, anyone?), and even pan-Asian cuisine such as Vietnamese hainan chicken, Chinese roasted char siu pork, and Japanese gyoza, we frequent Thai Boom so often that all three delivery guys recognize us and we are on first-name basis with the cashiers who take our phone-in orders. We’ll occasionally eat at the restaurant as well, hence the varied backgrounds and lighting for the photos below.

Kra Por Pla (Fish Maw Soup)

Kra Por Pla (Fish Maw Soup)

Martin and I are admittedly creatures of habit; when we find something we like on a menu, we’ll keep ordering it until we get sick of it (if that time ever comes). But even so, over the past three years, we have been able to sample a great variety of dishes. Arguably the most daring is the kra por pla — a thick soup filled with fish maw, crab meat, hard boiled quail eggs, congealed pork blood, and bamboo. Fish maw, a euphemism for the swim bladder, is the offal of the sea. With a soft and airy yet chewy texture, the essentially flavorless collagen takes on the bold flavors of the spicy broth. Another “unusual” ingredient is the congealed pork blood, known as huyết in Vietnamese cuisine, basically a steamed blood cake that resembles tofu or pudding in texture. Altogether perfect for a cold night, but not for the faint of heart.

Fried Tofu

Fried Tofu

Another starter we’ll order on occasion is the fried tofu. Super crispy, golden triangles that are silky smooth on the inside, dipped in a homemade sweet and sour sauce, these are a great splurge – worth every calorie. On other visits, we have also ordered the tod mun (fish cake patties) and som tum (papaya salad). The tod mun are crispy and fragrant with lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves. The som tum can be ordered extra spicy (“Thai spicy”) and arrives with finely julienned green papaya swimming in a fish sauce, chili, and dried shrimp dressing. Two traditional Thai favorites!

Tom Kha Gai with flat rice noodles

Tom Kha Gai with flat rice noodles

I love Thai soups. The trifecta of galangal (similar to ginger in appearance but with a much more potent flavor), kaffir lime leaves, and lemongrass impart their aroma to create a broth unlike any other. Tom yum is a clear broth soup while tom kha gets its opaque creaminess from coconut milk. I make a Vietnamese spin on tom yum (actually tom khlong, which is tamarind-based instead of lime) at home so I like to order tom kha when dining out. Thin slices of chicken breast or cubes of fresh tofu serve as the proteins, and I order my soup with a side of flat rice noodles (the ones used for pad see ew) to add a carb element. This is my go-to dish here!

Pepper Assortment

Pepper Assortment

When we dine at the restaurant, the waitresses are always quick to bring us (well, me) this cute basket featuring pepper in many preparations. I always go straight to the sambal – a paste of ground Thai chilies, garlic, and vinegar.

Tom Yum with Tofu

Tom Yum with Tofu

Luckily I have my own stash of sambal at home, manufactured by the same lovely people who make Huy Fong Foods sriracha. It adds a tangy and spicy kick to the soup, tinting the broth a tinge of red. (In case you noticed, I had leftover vermicelli rice noodles after making spring rolls one night and I poured my tom yum soup over those instead.)

Pad See Ew with Squid

Pad See Ew with Squid

Speaking of flat rice noodles, Thai Boom of course sells one of the most popular dishes — pad see ew, flat rice noodles pan fried with Chinese broccoli (gai lan), egg, and a “brown sauce” (oyster sauce and soy sauce based). All of the noodle dishes including pad thai (which is generous with the fish sauce and not too sweet here) and rad na (basically pad see ew but with a more saucy “gravy”) come with your choice of protein: chicken, beef, pork, tofu (fried or steamed), shrimp, squid, seafood, or vegetables. The sweet and savory noodles and crunchy greens are surprisingly not very greasy for having been pan fried. Martin’s favorite is the fried tofu; when you order it, they always ask if egg is OK as many tofu requests tend to come from vegetarians or vegans. I appreciate that extra bit of consideration.

Hainam Chicken

Hainam Chicken

Martin’s all-time favorite dish from Thai Boom has to be the Hainam chicken, a Southeast Asian specialty that is essentially chicken and rice. The chicken is steeped to create a stock which is then used to cook the rice and to serve as soup to accompany the final product. The chicken meat itself is shredded and piled on over the bed of rice. Sometimes simple is best.

But the sauce...

But the sauce…

But the dipping sauce… oh the dipping sauce. This is what really makes Thai Boom’s hainanese chicken stand out from the rest. Packed with minced garlic, chilies, muddled lime, and I have no idea what else, this sauce adds a huge burst of flavor. We would love to replicate it someday, but the layering of flavors is so complex that the task seems daunting.

Trout Fish

Trout Fish

Once in a while, we dare each other to branch out and order something new. Last night, for example, I opted for the crispy fried fillet of trout, served with a mango salad. Oh. My. Fish. One bite into the crunchy, crumbly fillet and I was immediately transported back to my childhood. You see, at the Asian grocery stores that are very prevalent in Orange County (but sadly absent in West LA), you can pick out a live or fresh-frozen fish and have the crew clean it, gut it, and deep fry it for a few extra bucks. Bring it home, drizzle with nuoc cham, and serve with mounds of steaming hot jasmine rice – I was a happy camper. The edges were especially satisfying to crunch into, and what luck – they left the tail! (When I was a kid, my mom and I would take turns letting each other have that prized piece.) The mango salad was similar to the som tum with the substitution of tart green mango. Marinated in fish sauce and chilies, this was a great punch of acid to cut through the grease of fried fish.

Mango Season!

Mango Season!

If we’re lucky, Thai Boom would have tracked down some extra ripe champagne mangoes, the narrow bright yellow kind. When we eat in the restaurant, we can do a quick recon for them by glancing over at the counter where they are always on display, but when ordering by phone, have no fear! They are brutally honest about the quality of their mangoes; I remember once I asked if they had mangoes in season and the girl replied that yes, they did, but they are not particularly ripe so she would not recommend it. I’m still thankful for her saving me from the disappointment.

Sticky Rice & Mango

Sticky Rice & Mango

But sometimes, luck is on our side and we get to finish our meal with one of these – a plate of coconut milk infused sticky rice, fresh slices of mango, and extra coconut milk for drizzling. And when the mangoes are just right, they are as sweet as candy. So good!

So if you’re in the mood for Thai food, or if you are feeling too lazy to cook and happen to live within a few miles of Venice and Overland (in which case, howdy neighbor!), be sure to check out Thai Boom. There’s something for everyone!

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Check out Thai Boom: thaiboomla.com

10863 Venice Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90034

See their Yelp reviews here!

Kanom Jeen Nam Ya (Thai Fish Curry Soup)

Main Dishes, Recipes

As I’ve mentioned before, my dad is awesome at tasting new foods at restaurants and then coming home and replicating (often improving) on those dishes. Nam ya (known by its full Thai name as kanom jeen nam ya or ขนมจีนน้ำยา) is one of those dishes. We had tried it at a family friend’s house years ago and every once in a while, especially when the weather turns chilly, I’ll request my dad to whip up a batch. He used to purchase whole catfish from the Vietnamese grocery stores, but then the work to flake the fish off the bones was time-consuming. He found catfish fillets, vacuum-sealed and frozen, at Costco and the final product was still pretty darn good (and less time in the kitchen means more time with family!). I found some recipes online for a traditional version that resembles noodles coated with curry sauce, but ours is a noodle soup version sure to warm your soul on a cold night.

Kanom jeen nam ya (Thai fish curry)

Kanom jeen nam ya (Thai fish curry)

Ingredients:

1 10.5-ounce package of rice vermicelli

3 catfish fillets

2 14-ounce cans of chicken broth (súp gà) * keep one can for the 2nd step

3-4 kaffir lime leaves, whole

1 stalk of fresh lemongrass, cut into 2-inch chunks

3-4 slices of galangal

1 4-oz can nam ya curry paste (yellow or red – you won’t need the whole can)

1 6.8 fluid ounce (200 mL) carton of coconut milk (I use kara brand coconut cream – it comes in a convenient Tetra-Pak box)

1-2 tablespoons fish sauce, more or less to taste

1 bunch of long green beans (đậu đũa in Vietnamese), cut into 1/4-inch pieces

Sprigs of Thai basil

A few handfuls of bean sprouts (be sure to remove the roots and rinse the sprouts in cold water)

Bring a pot of water to a boil. Cook the vermicelli according to package instructions (probably 2-4 minutes). Tip: unlike pasta, the noodles will not feel al dente until they’ve been drained, rinsed, and set aside for a few minutes. You’ll want to take the noodles off the heat once the timer goes off, even though the noodles will seem too firm. If you wait until the noodles have the right texture straight from the pot, they will overcook and become mushy after you rinse and drain.

Prep the garnish and toppings

Prep the garnish and toppings

In a large pot (at least 5 quarts), add the chicken broth. Keep one of the cans and fill it with water; add to the pot. Repeat once more. Bring to a boil this 28 ounces of broth + 28 ounces of water solution. Add the lime leaves, lemongrass, and galangal. Cook the fish fillets in this fragrant broth. It should only take a few minutes, longer if the fillets were frozen.

Mashing up the fish fillets and curry paste

Mashing up the fish fillets and curry paste

When the fillets are cooked through, transfer the fillets to a bowl. Using a fork or the back of a spoon, flake the fish into a fine mash. Mix in about 2/3 of the can of curry paste.

Add the fish back to the pot. Pour in the coconut milk and season with fish sauce. Simmer for a few minutes.

Soupy goodness!

Soupy goodness!

Prepare for serving: in each bowl, add the vermicelli. Top with a handful of bean sprouts and a scant handful of chopped long beans. Ladle in the broth, being sure to get plenty of fishy bits. Garnish with Thai basil and chili salt (see below). This recipe will yield about 4-5 servings.

Chili Salt

Chili Salt

If you have it on hand, you could whip up a quick batch of chili salt by grinding 1 Thai chili with about 1 tablespoon of salt. Store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place. Chili salt is pretty shelf-stable and tastes great with fruit.

Thanks, Dad, for figuring out the recipe and for teaching me how to make it myself!