My thanks to Tom Armitage and Jonathan Gold for singing the praises of Saipin Chutima's cooking (and Renu Nakorn) on the Los Angeles board. I've just returned from a 5-day trip to Las Vegas and ate at Lotus of Siam five times (twice in one day) and can only say that this was one of the most exciting and enjoyable food experiences of my life.
All I can say is that I've been back in New York for 24 hours and if someone offered me an all-expense paid visit to any restaurant in the world right now, I'm not at all sure I wouldn't choose to head right back to 953 E. Sahara.
LoS's menu is extensive, but even a cursory glance indicates that alongside typical Thai fare resides Northern Thai and Issan specialties, stuff I've never had the opportunity to try before. One time I dined alone, once with small groups of 2-4, and once with 14 people, and each meal was superb.
If there is a better host/educator than Bill Supima, I've yet to meet him. I put myself in his hands, and with great sensitivity and enthusiasm, he recommended great dish after great dish. If you go, I urge you to ask for Bill and to describe your needs. For example, one of my friends was a vegetarian, and Saipin whipped up an off-menu tofu salad that drove even the carnivores crazy. When some friends were wary of heat, he guided them toward delectable food that was not shy of flavor, only of hotness.
LoS offers a buffet lunch, and this attracts the vast majority of patrons, but I urge you to order off the menu. This food cries out to be eaten hot and fresh. LoS was traditionally closed for dinner, so it is still virtually empty at night. What a luxury to have Bill and Saipin's undivided attention without feeling too guilty about it.
I sampled so many fantastic dishes that it hurts me to single out a few, but these were some of the highlights:
Nam Kao Tod, minced sour sausage mixed with green onion, fresh chili, ginger, peanuts, crispy rice and lime juice, mint and tons of herbs. This was the first dish I ate at LoS, and it is probably my favorite. In fact, I ate it on every visit. The crunch of the entire rice (not just the exterior) is perfect, the balance of sourness and sweetness spot on. The cabbage provided is the perfect accompaniment. The Platonic ideal.
Nua Dad Deaw (Beef Jerky Issan style) Beautifully marinated sirloin. Just a touch too sweet for my taste, but addictive nonetheless.
Spicy Chicken Wings (sauteed with gobs of garlic, chili, and fried mint leaves)
Pla Dook Yang, a charbroiled whole catfish, served with a spicy sauce that includes many different peppers. A spectacular creation, that won over many non-catfish lovers (Why do so many people not like
Hoh Mok Plar, an Issan-style homey bowl with curry paste, fish, egg, sliced cabbage, and catfish. Comfort food of the highest order. I let out so many involuntary moans while eating this dish that an eavesdropper might have thought I was pursuing another type of sensual experience.
And for dessert, try any of the sticky rice concoctions -- mango, if available, or the coconut "ice cream" (actually the cream of reduced coconut milk). On Monday, after a special religious celebration, I was lucky enough to sample the sticky rice topped with bits of shredded coconut and fish flakes -- what an amazing combination. First time I've ever eaten fish as a dessert.
Also, try the "lime drink," which is nothing but just-squeezed limes and sugar. Just like home.
I'm not a professional food critic, so I'm allowed to lead with my heart. I've only known Bill and Saipin for a week, but I consider them my friends, and I consider Lotus of Siam to be one of the great restaurants in the United States. If folks fly out just to eat a meal at French Laundry, then why not go out of your way to eat at Taste of Siam, where it's hard to spend $20 per person even if you over-order, and where you are in the hands of such lovely, gracious people who love to talk about food and love to see their customers enjoy the fruits of their labor?
The Chutimas rule.