Jonathan Gold has a singular talent for making the mundane sound special, fascinating, and unique. I should have remembered that when I let myself be intimidated by his description of the khûa klíng phat lung at Jitlada: "the spiciest food you can eat in Los Angeles", "a turmeric-rich endorphin bomb", and "a searing, tongue-scouring, chile-intensive dish". So when I ordered it, I decided to forego the unequivocal directive that I usually present at Thai restaurants: "Very very spicy. Thai hot. Very spicy. Yes, very spicy." (Because I have that I-like-wonder-bread-and-baloney-sandwiches look about me, around here such a request usually results in a dish that I would call "medium". In Atlanta, it got me dishes that were "very hot". Go figure.) But I figured that if it was hot enough to sear JG's tongue, then it would probably be on the high side of what I could tolerate.
Well, to put it bluntly, it ain't all that. If you order the plain khûa klíng phat lung, you'll get a dish that is somewhat more piquant than black-pepper flavor beef jerky. No, I'm not exaggerating. Chew it a little while, and you'll feel a little zip in the back of your throat...but that's it. It does have a pleasant, earthy flavor, but without the chiles it's not a balanced dish. So when you order, don't be afraid to ask Jazz to put some fire in it. (I thought about asking her to "adjust" it, but they seemed very busy and I figured it probably wouldn't be the same unless the chiles were cooked in.)
I don't want to give the impression that I didn't enjoy my visit. On the contrary, I'll be heading back to Jitlada as soon as I can. The spicy mango salad was an out-of-this-world mixture of sweet mango, juicy shrimp, tart citrus dressing, and I-don't-know-what-else that left a huge grin on my face and a happy, fiery sensation on my lips. And the catfish/tea leaf curry had a complex, rich, earthy character that I've never come close to experiencing in a Thai curry before.
So, yeah, Jitlada gets a very definite thumbs-up, but don't be shy when you order.
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