In the world of food forums and food blogging, you know something or somewhere has pretty much "made it" when it becomes a generally accepted abbreviation. Case in point; Din Tai Fung, is now called....."DTF", and they are well known for their "XLB"...Xiao Long Bao, a double whammy in this case. Back in 2005, Dylan, the mind behind the magic of Eat, Drink, & Be Merry, did a joint post on Niu Rou Mian, which we simply started calling "NRM". Now I'm not going to make any Al Gore-ish claims to have invented anything (it was all Dylan, he-he-he), but I see "NRM" abbreviations everywhere. And so we get to "LOS"........ an abbreviation you'llsee everywhere this restaurant is mentioned.LOS = Lotus of Siam is a "GAA" (generally accepted abbreviation). In many ways for me, Lotus of Siam represents the best of what Chowhound was. In fact, I've bookmarked the very first time I read about LOS, in this post from 2000, by Dave Feldman. Over the years, LOS became an interesting case study for me. I believe it was with LOS that I first really noticed "the contrarian", you know them...he in the name of "honesty and truthfulness" who goes to a restaurant that folks love, who orders to the exact weakness of a restaurant, who desires to "balance the scales" and cut through the hype. He who in the end creates his own negative hyperbole, by exaggerating every possible negative thing they can think of about a restaurant. Of course, it didn't help that Jonathan Gold declared Lotus of Siam the "single best Thai restaurant in North America." That's some major real estate........even after our first visit in 2001, where I really enjoyed the food, but still wasn't really sure about the "the best" title. In fact, if you'd like to go back in time, you can check out this post from CH in 2001.
Over the years, I'd been to LOS 4 times. You can find a photo from a visit in 2002 in this post. And I've got to say, even though we encounter 1 sort of clunker of a dish during every visit. LOS is still the, or among the, best Thai Restaurants I've ever been to. But this visit was different, I hadn't been to LOS in five years, the Missus six. During that period of time, we've gone through a heck of a lot of Thai Food...here...and in Thailand. And time has a way of working on you (thank goodness for the food blog), even with such revered bloggers such as Elmo to keep you up to date. But still you tend to wonder........was LOS still that good? Upon our arrival, LOS still looked as it did the first time we visited.......looking just like another restaurant awash in the sea of strip malls in a sort of seedy part of Sahara Avenue.
There were two major changes on our arrival, the crowd of people waiting to get in, and all of the awards, clippings, and magazine covers that now cover almost the entire wall at the entrance of the restaurant. Still, the rest of the restaurant seemed the same...from the stained acoustic tiles on the ceiling, to the tacky lattice work.
We found the familiar surroundings comforting...we even laughed as we ticked off and identified the different tables we've had over the years.
Since I had forgotten our ice chest, the strategy for the evening was to minimize left-overs.....bummer. We also decided to order from three different regions.
We started with the Crispy Duck with Chili Mint Leaves ($19.95):
Crisp duck, mildy sweet, with just the hint of five-spice. Topped with fried Thai Basil leaves, just like Bangkok.
This was a good dish....good crisp skin, not greasy in the least bit. As with many of this type of Thai dishes, the flavors were very familiar.
We also ordered the Issan Sausage ($9.95):
I did mentioned that with every meal there was a "clunker" right? Well this was it. We loved many of the sausages we ate in Thailand, and none of them tasted like this. I love the sour-fermented flavor of Thai Sausages....but these tasted rancid....it was also dry. Not good eats.....
We had considered getting a nice Northern Larb, but in the end decided on the Koi Soi (Spicy Raw Beef Salad - $13.95). LOS was the first place I ever had Koi Soi, and I remember enjoying it, so I was curious to see if my opinion would still hold true. Let me just say that it was even better than I remembered:
First off, the meat used was tenderloin....fresh and tender, and sliced into small cubes like tartar, the beef was of excellent quality. Second, the roasted rice powder, was just that, a very fine powder, that still added texture, but without the the intrusive tooth cracking that the occasional large piece of coarsely ground rice powder would add. Third was balance, the salty-sour-spicy balance was perfect, as were the fine chiffonade of kaffir lime leaf, cilantro, and other herbs, creating a harmonious dish. Ummm, harmonious, in a spicy sort of way.......
I love the Koi Soi at Sab E Lee, but this was in another league...much more refined, much more balanced. It was by far, my favorite dish of the short trip.
Having really enjoyed the various "dips" in Chiang Mai, we went for the Nam Prik Hed (Spicy Mushroom Dip - $9.95):
The earthy tones of the mushrooms, combined with the sharp flavors of the herbs, and the even sharper heat, along with blanched veggies made this a wonderful dish. It was also the spiciest.....just as spicy as the Nam Prik we had in Chiang Mai. We were instantly transported to a restaurant called Huen Phen in Chiang Mai. The flavors were right on.....as was the heat!
The long beans were especially good, young and sweet.
In this rare case, I'd say that our meal had exceeded our expectations....it was better than I recalled. We drew a few stares from the tables around us. Most of those folks ordered stuff like Wor Won Ton Mein, Tempura(???), Tom Yum, Pineapple Fried Rice, and Broccoli with Oyster Sauce (contrarians perhaps?). Best Thai Restaurant in North America? I don't think I'll ever be able to answer that. Great Thai food that's worth the trip to Vegas? You bet.....
Some Notes: Times have changed since we first started going to LOS, make reservations. And do yourself a favor, unless you want to be a "contrarian", don't do the buffet, and give something different a shot. Bill Chutima is a well known wine enthusiast, so you might enjoy the wine list.
Lotus of Siam
953 E. Sahara Ave
Las Vegas, NV 89104