Cafe Society can't get enough of Lotus of Siam.
When she was in Las Vegas last week, Patricia Calhoun twice ventured off the Strip to visit the northern Thai restaurant in its original location, a silly strip mall off Sahara Avenue. That was after a strong endorsement from Lori Midson, who once flew to Sin City and back in a day, just so she could eat at the place for both lunch and dinner.
Last night, I wrangled a table at the soft opening of the brand-new New York City extension.
The location of the new outpost is considerably more posh than the old: The restaurant slipped into a Greenwich Village spot on 5th Avenue that used to house the renowned Cru, a high-end French spot that kept a 65,000-bottle-deep wine list.
The Lotus of Siam folks opted for comfortable, tasteful digs, with dark, padded booths lining the edges and basic art adorning the walls. And while servers moved through the dining room with the uncertain frenzied pace that characterizes soft openings -- when systems are still falling into place -- we were blown away by our waiter's knowledge. The guy was an alum of Le Bernardin and Gordon Ramsay, stolen away by the Thai restaurant. A pro.
The full menu wasn't available this week; instead, the restaurant was serving a seven-course tasting menu, highlighting a handful of interesting dishes, showcasing everything from a bacon-wrapped shrimp egg roll to a jackfruit-studded cube of gelatin, a list that we thoroughly enjoyed while we sucked down plenty of Singha. Until the bar ran out, that is.
We started with tuna koi soy, a diced raw tuna preparation squeezed with kaffir lime and then dusted with cilantro, mint, scallion and chili pepper, served with strips of crisp, raw cabbage to cut the bite, since the kitchen didn't shy away from the spice. That raw vegetable also added a great textural element while awakening the palate for what was to come.
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The nam kao tod paired rice, fried crispy, with bits of spicy Thai sausage, fresh chili and ginger, a sprinkling of peanuts and a liberal squeeze of lime. More fresh vegetables served as garnish, with cabbage and thick slices of cucumber lining the side of the dish, and fresh whole leaves of aromatic Thai basil on top. We loved the delicate crunch of the rice so much, we ate every single grain.
Of the two soups served, we were more interested in the tom kha hed, a rich, spicy coconut soup replete with fleshy oyster, maitake and shimeji mushrooms. Fresh leaves of cilantro did a lot to ensure the creaminess didn't become oppressive, and the whole floating chile lent plenty of spice (as did the drizzle of chile oil, which lingered in pools on the surface of the soup).
The northern larb was the least photogenic of the plates we tried, but it was also one of the most satisfying. The minced pork was enriched with mint, Thai basil and cilantro, and served with pickled cucumbers, whose juice mingled with the juice of the meat, creating a delicious savory effect.
We're convinced that these two Lotus of Siam spots are the best Thai restaurants in the country. Now we just need the group to open a third restaurant in Denver.