Wednesday, February 06, 2008. BF and I checked out of our hotel this morning around 11am and headed directly to Lotus of Siam. We got there around 11:20, and though the location leaves a LOT to be desired, we were reassured by the crowd that was already forming near the door. We were seated immediately and decided to peruse the buffet, just to see what was being offered. As I had read on the boards, the buffet selections looked pretty generic (though well prepared) – pad thai, lots of fried things, chicken curry, hot and sour soup. BF was lured by the siren call of fried stuff, but I managed to rein him in by promising to order the stuffed chicken wings. The staff was obviously pleased when we requested the regular menu. I followed the sage advice of a few board members and ordered the stuffed wings, crisp rice with sour sausage, green chile dip, kang hung lay (garlic/pork stew), khao soi with chicken, and the fried pork belly with Chinese broccoli and oyster sauce. BF was appalled at the amount of dishes, but all of you hounds were right – the portions are not huge (especially by Vegas standards), so 6 dishes for 2 people was plenty but not ridiculously excessive. We stuck with spice level 5, just to be safe.
The crispy rice came out first, so we dug right in. Interesting dish, and definitely not what I was expecting. The rice is deep fried, so each individual grain is crispy – I was expecting something more like chinese fried rice but with crisp edges or something. The dish was extremely sour, although the sweet slivers of red onion on top helped to cut the tang a bit. I felt it was a bit unbalanced, but VERY addictive – something about that sour crunch kept me coming back for more. The next dish out was the sausage-stuffed fried chicken wings, which our server kindly supplemented with a few of the garlic-pepper wings from the buffet. The stuffed wings were outrageously crunchy, with a tasty filling. After the sour rice, they seemed a little bland to me, but BF LOVED them. We both really enjoyed the garlic-pepper wings from the buffet and I would consider getting the buffet if I were just in the mood to pig out on wings. Next up, chile dip, served with a few pork rinds and a variety of blanched vegetables. Holy sh*t, this was spicy. I am not a spice wuss by any stretch (I put habanero sauce on just about everything), and this was killing me. It was very tasty, but I couldn’t eat much of it because of the spice. The vegetables were not as crisp as I like, and there were only about 5 tiny pieces of pork rind, so I put some on rice, which helped temper the heat a bit and allowed me to actually taste the chiles instead of the heat.
Thus sated with appetizers, we turned our attention to the entrees. Each of these was completely delicious, period. The kang hung lay was not nearly as garlicky as I was expecting, but the tender pork was covered in a sauce of rich, earthy spices with just the right amount of heat in the sauce, so I didn’t miss the garlic. It almost tasted more like an Indian preparation than a Thai dish. The crisp pork belly was just over the top – deep fried crispy-tender fatty pork pieces with plenty of fresh Chinese broccoli in a subtle sauce (the sauce was NOTHING like Chinese oyster sauce – it was not thick at all, and only slightly sweet). Each element in this dish worked perfectly together (salty-crispy-fatty-sweet-bitter-fresh), but to get the correct effect you had to make sure to spear a chunk of pork with each bite of greens. Wonderful as these both were, however, they didn’t hold a candle to the khao soi. I love coconut milk sauces in any case, but this was the ultimate – thick, rich, coconutty goodness with just a bit of spice and these wonderful, long, chewy noodles to soak it up. The few pieces of chicken in the bowl were tender and tasty, but really all I wanted was the noodles and that INCREDIBLE sauce. Once we finished the noodles, we took all the rice we had left and put it in the sauce bowl to soak up what was left (though I would have just drunk it if I hadn’t had rice handy). SO good!
Though we were stuffed to the gills by this point, I tried to order the mango with sticky rice – sadly, mangoes are out of season so I was out of luck. Next time. I would love to work my way through this menu a few dishes at a time. The khao soi, kang hung lay, pork belly and sour rice I would order again and again, but I think I would skip the fried wings and green chile dip. Having lived in Santa Fe, I am very partial to New Mexico style green chile preparations and I didn’t feel this measured up (excessive heat notwithstanding). The fried wings were fine, and if you love fried stuff they were excellent, but I’d rather save stomach space for noodles.
Once I get back to NYC and lose the 10 lbs I gained on this trip, I will be sure to head to Sriphaphai and post a SMACKDOWN review of LoS vs New York’s finest. I don’t know that I’ll find all the same dishes at Sriphaphai, but I’ll do my best. Right now, though, I’d say Lotus of Siam is at least as good as Sriphaphai and maybe better. We shall see!!!!!!!