Well the Mrs. and I actually had an appointment in Norwalk yesterday so we decided to have a late lunch at Renu Nakorn.
I ordered only Issan stuff since that's a bit harder to come by in LA. We had som nomai (bamboo shoot salad), plaa kung (shrimp salad), moo ping (barbecued pork strips), their say kok and toasted rice
salad and khao niao (sticky rice).
All in all, I thought it was pretty good and the staff was very, very friendly.
The plaa kung was the best of the four but I'm very partial to that dish. This dish consists of cooked shrimp, lots of red onion in big chunks, lots of spring onion minced, lots of cilantro in a very tart
lime chili sauce. It's served with cabbage, which you use with the sticky rice to pick up and eat the dish. The only unauthentic part of the dish was they also included iceberg lettuce, but just a bit on the side.
The sausage and toasted rice salad wasn't bad. I've never seen this dish in Thailand and it was a little light on the say kok (the sour Issan sausage that is the centerpiece) but it was pretty tasty. I am
assuming that this is a dish that they created at this restaurant as a variation on the traditional meal of say kok and kao niao ping, which are barbecued cakes of sticky rice.
I always judge a place serving Issan food by the salads or "yums," which are the most characteristic dishes. In Thailand, a good Thai yum (which are sometimes called "som's" and in the case of shrimp,
"plaa kung") usually consists of the main ingredient plus lots of onion (almost equal to the meat or fish), a huge amount of cilantro, tablespoons of garlic and then a very tart vinagraitte of lime juice, fish sauce and chilis.
The dishes at Renu Nakorn were pretty authentic except they had much less garlic than you get in Thailand.
The worst American variation of this is where they turn them into a kind of Chef's salad with a few thai ingredients sprinkled on top. I had one of those last week at a place in West LA that was so vile I threw most of it away.
The moo ping was just right. The bamboo salad was ok but not spectacular.
I was a bit shocked by the price, which was $29 for the above lunch before tip but we ordered a la carte. The lunch specials that they were featuring (and that many people were eating) were garden-variety american-chinese lunch plates, alas.
It's unfortunate that this type of food is so rarified here because nothing could be further from its source of origin. Lao/Issan food is by definition street food, unpretentious and inexpensive. It doesn't require a "chef" to make it, it simply requires using the right ingredients and serving them up in an unadulterated fashion. It's also supposed to be cheap. (In Bangkok a meal like the above would cost about $3.00, in Issan, it would cost $1.50 and in Laos it would cost under a buck.)
But, hey, what are you going to do? This is LA. All in all, Renu Nakorn was pretty good.