We went on Monday (President's Day) with great anticipation. Unfortunately, that was our first, and will be our LAST visit to this place. I know I am swimming against the tide - so let me explain.
I had planned 2 dinners at this place to check out their extensive menu. We love Thai food, and have visited Renu Nakorn here in LA. We have Thai food at least twice a month, and in Pasadena, California, we love our local Thai restaurants - Saladang, President's Thai. I also love the Thai restaurants in Thai Town LA - specially Ruen Pair and the special menu at Jitlada. So we had gone with great expectations.
Sunday dinner became impossible because our lunch at Mesa Grill was still sitting heavily on our stomachs. So we ended up with a light snack before Cirque's "O" 10:30 seating.
Monday being Monday, we took a cab to Lotus of Siam for lunch - arriving around 12:15pm. The place is somewhat out of the normal place, but we were pleasantly surprised to see it almost full - perhaps the President's Day had brought out extra folks on a Monday. We did not have reservations, so we were lucky to be seated at a table for 2 in the front area. They had a slightly cynical smile when we said "no reservations". We were seated without a menu, and we thought the menu would come soon. In the meantime, we went over and looked at the buffet in the middle - but except for the chicken wings, which some here have praised, there was nothing distinctive. That should have been my first clue - if this is indeed the best Thai restaurant in the country (as per Jonathan Gold), then why was their buffet so undistinguished? Could they not put one special item in there? I would have expected at least 2-3 unusual items - but I guess the tired looking Pad Thai, the 2 soups, and the other pedestrian fare was what you got for $8.99.
By this time we had to flag down a waiter and ask for a menu. He seemed surprised, and we also got the feeling we were getting a slight cold shoulder. I have noticed some inherent negative bias from Thai people against Indians, specially in Thailand. But to see it here was a bit creepy.
We had the recommendations from chowhound and after some deliberation, chose the following 3 dishes. They were all HUGE mistakes. So -10 points to me for choosing poorly.
1. #66 ISSAN SAUSAGE - Grilled sour pork sausage, served with fresh chili, ginger and peanut.
FUNKY is NOT sufficiently expressive to describe this sausage. When we tried it, the image that welled up from the bottom of our guts was Andrew Zimmern's BIZARRE FOODS show on Travel Channel.I wish I had remembered this BEFORE we placed the order. In this episode Zimmern was in a small town in Thailand where he tried their sour pork and rice sausage - and basically had to give up before he could finish 1 sausage. We had to leave this dish almost 80% uneaten. I tried to mask the flavor with prik nam pla, the spicy Thai chillies in fish sauce condiment (there were no condiment trays brought to our table and I had to ask one of the constantly rushing waiters to get even the prik nam pla) - but it was beyond me. I am very adventurous eater and my wife was surprised that even I could not finish my second bite. We had asked the waiter who took our order about each dish - and he only asked if we ate pork. When we replied yes, he took the order w/o saying anything more. The waiter who cleared our table afterwards asked us how the meal was - seeing more than half the dishes uneaten - and when we expressed dissatisfaction, he mentioned that this particular dish was even difficult for many Thais to stomach. Should the original waiter not have given us a hint of warning? STRIKE ONE
2. #55 NUA NAM TOK Sliced charbroiled beef mixed with green onion, chili, lime juice & rice powder.
This was the one dish that we could eat. While it was tasty, we found it to be nothing special. The beef was ordinary, the sauce was no more flavorful or unique than my locally favorite Thai restaurant in Pasadena (called Pad Thai), and lacked any hint of the chef's magic touch.
3. #115 SEAFOOD NOODLE SOUP Assorted seafood in a clear broth soup with small flat white noodle.
This was the other MAJOR mistake - all blame to me. We love the fried flat noodles in Thai cooking, and somehow we thought that the other two dishes were dry dishes, so we needed one dish which had some gravy/soup. In my mind, I had imagined something akin to the Malaysian curry laksa - a rich coconut milk soup based with one of the spicy Thai curries, with seafood and noodles. But clearly I had made a mistake with the numbering and ended up ordering the most boring pedestrian dish of all. A big bowl of tired rice noodles, lots of sprouts, 4 tired prawns, a little squid, a little surimi (not even real crab meat) and 2 mussels. The broth had NO flavor - and I was thinking of the pho in the local Vietnamese restaurants, or even the free soups at the local Sichuan restaurants have so much more flavor. The final insult was they had not even removed the "beard" from the mussels - they had not cleaned it properly. No amount of prik nam pla and soya sauce could mask the disappointment of this simplest of simple dishes. STRIKE TWO.
The service was extremely poor. No refilling of water, no asking if things were OK, basically plonked down the food and left to swim or sink on our own. There was a large table behind us - just inside the main room. It must have had some important people from the area - perhaps local politicos. They were being wined and dined by all the waitstaff. I think it was the woman chef Saipin Chutima's husband who hung out with them opening bottles of wine and other potables. Chef Chutima also came out, smiled, but went back to the kitchen relatively quickly.
We were there the first time, so we did not have any expectations of being treated like long time customers who might also be important in local politics. But we also did not expect to be treated as negligently as we were. STRIKE THREE.
I know it is unfair to criticize a restaurant on one visit. I thought very hard before writing this review. But it was a perfect storm of several criteria that rises in my mind to say that I will never again visit this restaurant. The poor service, poor choice of items (my fault, but the waiter could have warned us at least with one item), the poor selections in the buffet table, the absolute disappointment in the soup dish - completely devoid of taste, the differential treatment to different tables, the slightly out of way location.
Las Vegas has many good dining options, but from now on, in my book, this restaurant is off the list.