Sunday, August 16, 2009

Las Vegas Thai

I was in Las Vegas the other day, where I vowed to dine in what America's food cognoscenti ostensibly judges "the best Thai restaurant in the country". I regard this sweeping pronouncement as rather pompous. How can anyone make that claim? Why my neighborhood Thai joint, Thai Stick, occasionally rises to that superlative, I believe.

Neon signs, standard in this large strip mall, cast an alien glow at night

Lotus of Siam occupies a unit in an aging strip mall in a rough area of north Las Vegas Strip. Out-of-towners don't just wander here, it is a strange place to be, in the shadow of the bright lights, polished marble, and glass glitz of the Bellagio or the Wynn's. As I entered, parties dropped off by limo service head straight to their waiting tables.

Without a reservation, I was consigned to the waiting area for an hour gazing at framed reviews from Gourmet, the Robb Report (???), and David Rosengarten and at pictures of famous people who made the trek before me.

The menu is more extensive and varied than any Thai resto I've visited, and features an entire page of dishes from the North, where Thailand meets Myanmar and Laos.

But the other reason for the pilgrimage to Lotus of Siam is the extensive wine list. The resto keeps a 5,000 bottle cellar, about half of it in-house and the rest off-site. Offered are dozens of German and Austrian Rieslings, various vintages of Raveneau's Chablis Montee de Tonnerre, Dagueneau's Pouilly-Fumes, and Chateau Haut-Brion Blanc, among others. The prices are quite reasonable, $195 for a 1995 Raveneau Chablis Montee de Tonnerre, for example. The wine service is precise and without fuss.

Tom Yum Kai ($14.95 for the flaming pot). Thailand's famous hot (both in temperature and taste) and sour soup. Someone listed it as one of the ten best soups in the world. I can't disagree, especially this Lotus of Siam version. It reminds me much of my beloved sinigang.

Ah, the Soft Shell Crab Salad ($17.95), crispy quarters of soft shell crab on a melange of julienned cabbage, carrot, granny smith apple, chili, and ginger, dressed with sweetened lime juice and sprinkled with peanuts and cilantro. Everything comes together. Crunchy and refreshing!

Crispy Duck Curry ($19.95). It was indeed crispy and surprisingly not greasy, but the thick curry sauce weighed down the dish.

Crab Fried Rice ($12.95). Again, not greasy at all. I preferred this over the steamed rice, though the flavor of the crab meat got lost. Red Lantern in Redwood City serves a meaner version.

A unique feature of the menu is a section on sea bass. I love the dense, buttery meat of this fish. The Deep Fried Sea Bass on Drunken Noodle ($23.95) arrived smothered in Thai basil. Trust me, it was perfectly cooked.

Chunks of the crispy fried sea bass infused with basil leaves.

In southeast Asia, sticky rice, sweetened or unsweetened, is a favorite snack, and with mango it finds a heavenly partner. Sticky rice with mango is like going back home for me. This Lotus of Siam Sticky Rice with Mango ($7.95) is a luxurious version with its generous quantity of ripe mango slices. I totally enjoyed it. Still, Pagan, a Burmese resto in San Francisco, serves a more memorable one.

I was drinking almost by myself, otherwise I would've ordered another bottle as the wine list is so tempting. Yet, it was easy to pick the right bottle to have this evening, that's the brilliance of a list with a good range. The 1998 Franz Hirtzberger Riesling Federspiel ($32) has good body and is bone-dry. It came to the table chilled at the right temperature and poured by the waiter in tall, good-size glasses. Golden straw-colored, somewhat viscous, infused with citrus oil, crunchy Asian pear, apricot, and minerals, it proved wonderful with every dish.

Lotus of Siam
53 E. Sahara Ave.
Las Vegas, NV 89104
Tel. (702)735-3033
Lunch: Monday-Friday
Dinner: Every night
(Advisable to reserve at least a day in advance)

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