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Horde of hound descends on Renu Nakorn - Late Opinion

Vital Information | Jan 2, 200411:01 PM

The way we split our Embassy Suite suite, the kids got all the good writing spaces. I bascially had to use my laptop on my laptop, hence my inability to report more in real time. Plus, as I noted below, I was on dial-up. And by the way, I am starting a new thread just for those non-hot post users, so my words do not get lost--no offense to the hordes who who have already posted on Renu.

And Renu, the Thai place in the middle of no where, the Thai place reeking on approach, of the dairy next door? I think Renu is most special for its menu of Issan dishes and Northern Thai dishes. This menu, is nearly the same as world famous Lotus of Siam in Las Vegas, and thus, allows one to try the crispy rice, green chili dip, sour sausage and other items without hitting the Strip. I do not know, however, if other places in LA offer these regional specialities. Renu may be worth it just for these seldom seen dishes.

To be honest, the method at our lunch last week did not quite work for me. A Thai meal is about a balance of flavors and textures across a range of dishes. Our scattershot ordering left some gaps and inconclusions on our meal. Moreover, it was hard to focus on, it is hard to say this without sounding insulting, but to focus on the "right" dishes. I would have preferred if we all ate the same things generally, with perhaps variations on certain dishes for people with less heat tolerance. I liked plenty of things I ate, but at the end, it was not a great meal.

On the plus side, I loved the charcoal grilled catfish, and especially, the garlic-chili-lime-fishsauce condiment. We should have all just eaten this exemplary dish. The downside, to switch quickly to a minus, the fish was not all cooked. At the time of ordering, the waitress advised me that the fish would take a while. As soon as we said we wanted it, she ran in to the kitchen to get our fish fired up. It came with all the other dishes, in fact came early, but clearly they rushed it. A good chunk of the fish was raw. Another plus was the thorny, interesting and bitter vegetable in the pompano stew, chosum, roughly the vegetable is called. The northern pork stew, too complicated to make, my local Thai place once told me, pleased everyone at the table. Chunks of pork in a rich, varied gravy, yellow where Lotus of Siam's is red. Like LOS, Renu offers a range of simple grilled items. I wish I had a chance to try more of the much better prepared sliced beef with dark dipping sauce, but I was at the wrong end. The greatest failing of Chicago Thai places, is the lacking of this catagory of dishes, the grilled dishes. The dish that most disappointed me, green chili dip (nam prik). One of my favorite of Thai foods and one of my favorite dishes at LOS, at Renu, in the fear to keep things tame, left out all of the shrimp paste that gives this dish its stench and punch.

I feel barely able to judge Renu Nakorn. We tried no laabs, one of the most classic of Issan dishes, and at my end, I did not taste any sausages. I thought the papaya salad, even the one made spicy, lacked a variety of flavors, garlic and fish sauce. It was just not, I believe, the best papaya salad they could put fourth. We have commented vastly on the Chicago board (and even more via our listserv) about the problems with secret menu's and such in Thai restaurants. Even more than Chinese food, it seems like the Thai restaurant guards its secrets too closely. One so often needs to work to get the full range and flavor of Thai food. I do not believe we had it on Saturday. Still, Renu Nakorn, with its regional speciaties and pedigree, seems worth the effort.

Again, I extend my gratitude to Wayne for organizing the outing. I am lucky to have had a wonderful group of people to share a big Saturday lunch. I could not have made this first foray into the secrets of Renu Nakorn without you. Hope we can try it again.


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