One of the restaurants I had on my list from my previous visit to Madison was Lao Laan-Xang. Though it seems that many regard Lao Laan-Xang as a Thai Restaurant(and the sign does say Laotian Cuisine), the Owners are Lao, and there were more than few Lao style dishes on the menu...... and it had been a while since I've had good Lao food. Luckily, the weather had cleared by my last evening in Madison, and I was able to head down to the Williamson Street location of Lao Laan-Xang.
The tiny, but very warm and welcoming shop brought back memories of my first experience with Thai Food at the tiny Keo's on Kapahulu Boulevard back in the very early 80's. Keo's has of course gone to greater things, but my memories of that tiny but welcoming restaurant stay dear to my heart. This was before the great Thai food boom, and indeed I recall when I told one of my dates that we were going for "Thai Food", she asked me if "this was a chicken place?" (Thigh food, got it?) Which had me laughing the whole evening....... it was also on that very evening we saw a very petite woman with big hair and big.... ummm....well, anyway it turned out to be Dolly Parton. On another night, I spied Steve Perry from Journey having dinner there. And though this dining room would never reach the orchid filled heights of Keo's, there was something cozy that just reminded me of that place.
And amongst the Crab Rangoon, Fried Rice, and Curries, there were two of my favorite Lao dishes. The first was hard to find since it was under it's Thai name of Khao Tod Nam Som.... but there it was, what I call one of my "Death Row Dishes" - Nam Khao ($9.50):
Before I continue, let me apologize for the photos. It get's pretty dark on "The Willy" at night. This version of Nam Khao was not bad, but lacked the amount of crunchiness I enjoy. Also, it was less sour, lacking that fermented sourness I enjoy. Still this was ok, I've had worse, though it was miles behind the versions I've had at Aisa Cafe, Vientiane Restaurant in Garden Grove, and not even close to what I had in Vientiane.... as in Vientiane, Laos. It was also fairly pricey, about 30% more than what you'd pay in San Diego.
I also ordered the Mok Pa ($15.99), with some reservations, as the only decent version I had of this dish was at Vietiane in Garden Grove. But this was very good.
I had learned how to make this dish after taking a cooking class at Tamarind Cooking School in Luang Prabang, and loved the complex flavors so much that I've made this at home, though I end up steaming it rather than grilling it. This dish did not disappoint; the fish was wonderfully moist and tender, but not over-cooked, and did not have any muddy flavor at all. The flavor of dill was there, adding that refreshing clean taste without over-powering the dish. The lindering flavors of the herbs was excellent. The portion size was quite large, almost enough for two.
About the only thing not very good about the whole meal was the very low quality of the sticky rice. It was off-white and I bit into some terribly hard pieces of rice. i'm thinking it must be pretty hard to get good quality sticky rice in Madison.
I won't go into the bland steamed "gringo" vegetables, because heck, this happens everywhere in San Diego as well.
We received good service, our Server was friendly, and our waters were refilled. The food was quite good, so I'll surely be headed back here the next time I'm in Madison.
1146 Williamson St
Madison, WI 53703