Perhaps I should have titled this post, "LOS Twelve Years Later" because that's how long we've been coming to Lotus of Siam. No trip to Vegas would be complete without a visit to the rather worn strip mall on East Sahara Avenue.......according to my friends, "where cabs don't mind dropping you off, but don't like picking you up." Based on our last meal here almost four years ago, our expectations were high.
We had wondered how time had changed LOS and the answer was easy enough to find. First, Bill Chutima, who owns and runs LOS along with his wife and chef Saipin Chutima is quite the oenophile. There's now a rather large collection of wine on display as you enter. An even bigger difference is that the space next door has been taken over, doubling the size of the restaurant. Even with double the space, hordes of people are still waiting in line at LOS......at least from what we saw on this evening. At least two mini-vans dropped off groups of folks to eat.......all this on a Thursday. Good thing we were on our way out the door when they arrived.
We're always torn when eating at LOS. We want to try out new dishes, but also stick with our favorites from previous visits. Usually, sticking with favorites wins out.
Our main server on this night was the wonderful and warm Mai. Friendly without being overbearing, he enjoyed discussing food, especially Thai food both in the US and Thailand with us. He was a great ambassador for LOS.
The Missus wanted something light and refreshing to start. So we ordered the Soft Shell Crab Salad ($18.95).
Whomever fried this deserves a raise.....the crab was excellent, light and ethereal, with just the perfect crunch. I'm not a big fan of fruits in salads, but here, the green apple did a nice job of adding an additional layer of tartness, without interfering with the overall balance of the dish. In other words, the soul of the dish was unmistakably Thai. It was a great start to our meal.....
Unfortunately, those heights were never quite reached again. Of course we ordered the Koi Soy ($13.95). I just had to have it. LOS was the first place I'd ever had this wonderful raw beef "salad" back in 2002 and it is my benchmark for the dish.
We knew something was off when the dish arrived.....there seemed to be a lot less roasted rice powder, which added great texture and a mild nuttiness to the dish. Some of the pieces of the beef were quite hard and chewy, something I had never experienced with the Koi Neua at LOS. There was a ton of cilantro, but I couldn't taste kaffir lime leaf. You can just compare this with the what we had four years ago below..... This is still good, but not nearly as wonderful as what we've had during previous visits.
Another signature dish at LOS is a Crispy Duck with Chili Mint Leaves ($20.95).
This didn't measure up well either. While the duck was wonderfully fried, there seemed to be a paucity of sauce, which also tasted off, the balance of salt and sweet just didn't seem right. It also looked pretty sloppy with sauce dripping off the side of the plate. Again, this was not a bad dish, the frying was carried out to perfection, it just wasn't as good as before.
Again, another photo from the files.
I mentioned that the restaurant on the other side of LOS had closed down to Mai and joked that the next time we're back they'll have taken over that space as well. His answer was quite interesting. We were told that they now typically do about 400 covers on a good weeknight and sometimes up to 450-500 during the weekend. The restaurant space had been expanded, but the kitchen had not. I began wondering if LOS had not become a victim of its own success?
Didn't have much time to contemplate this as our next two dishes arrived. We had been missing Lanna style Thai. Not so much the Khao Soi, but more of the "dips" which we call "Nam Prik" type dishes. So we ordered first the Nam Prik Hed (Spicy Mushroom Dip - $9.95):
This was another dish that was fine, but didn't hit the same heights as what we've had here before. This was much too sour and the mushrooms too chewy. Sad really, since we really enjoyed it last time - see the photo on the right.
The Nam Prik Noom (Green Chili Dip - $9.95) was good, even though we ordered everything at a heat level '7', this one really brought it to the table.
Loved having this with sticky rice or with some of the light pork rinds. Smokey, with a pernicious burn, I'm thinking my heat tolerance has gone down over the last couple of years.
As I repeated many times, this wasn't a bad meal by any stretch of the imagination. It is indeed better than anything in San Diego. And while newer or first time visitors may think this is fantastic, the bar had been set on our many visits over the years. We know how good the food can, and had been.....and this wasn't it. Remember, Jonathan Gold, back when he used to post on Chowhound, called this the best Thai Restaurant in North America. The Missus was more disappointed than I was. We had just plain wonderful service, so I'm hoping that this was just an "off" night. Now I'll have to try and convince the Missus of that.
Lotus of Siam
953 E. Sahara Ave
Las Vegas, NV 89104