Psyched hardly describes my mood when I was about to try Jitlada, hands down one of the most positively reviewed authentic Thai restaurants in LA that won over the likes of Jonathan Gold and Gourmet magazine. Sinosoul, aka Tony, was kind enough to extend yet another one of his magnanimous invitations to join him there for a night of engorgement and spice, and I wasn’t about to pass that up even though I was a stranger to him in real life and only knew him through Twitter. Apparently, others felt the same way, so it was a joyful night of everyone trading URLs and Twitter handles.
Sinosoul, you see, has an “in” with Jitlada. They loooooove him. Jazz gives him special treatment & special dishes and will probably inspire a namesake Sinosoul Jr-ette at some point in the future. I’m willing to exploit all this Jitlada-Sinosoul love, especially if it gets me meals like I had.
(Still trying to puzzle out the “LV” in the reservation signage above. “Las Vegas”? “55″ “Love”?)
These are my godsends. The night of spice would not have been possible without them. Like Sesame Street, this post was brought to you by the letter “S” for sticky rice and Singha beer. While the starches (and thus sugars) in the rice actively counteracted the spice, the frosty beer (which tasted amazingly refreshing that night and once even spilled out of the bottle in a frozen slush) was immediately soothing.
A mild start with the Crispy Morning Glory Salad. As described, the morning glories (sort of a Chinese watercress) were fried and tossed with slightly sweet sauce, veggies and crisp red onions. A tantalizing wake-up for the taste buds.
Although the crab salad (Puu Plen Pla) was ordered, it never arrived, but the crab, lemongrass, mint and chile sounds divine since it incorporates most of my favorite flavors. I’ll have to return to try that out.
There was also a sort of rice salad that I found to be mild but others kept telling me was spicy. I’m not sure, but it could be the Khao Yam “Songkhla.”
This is where I must plead ignorance. I love languages and tend to learn the food words in languages first, but Thai cuisine was not part of my upbrining in Texas. By now, there are a few Thai restaurants in Houston (one excellent one I will have to retry and see if they can compare), but beyond the pad and the tom ka, I’m a total ignoramus.
I beleive this was the Kung Phae Chup Krung Thawt, a fried shrimp dish topped with fried basil and tea leaves. The amazing thing about this dish was that everything was so crispily fried without losing their intergrity. How can those leaves, so vibrantly green that they only look wilted, be so crispy that they cracked and dissolved in my mouth? I don’t know what alchemy was involved, but it was delicious.
Ay yi yi! This simple soup, so innocent, so colorful, so glistening, was the very devil. Eel Nam Sai Soup is a simple broth of eel (that little fish piece you see there on the left), tomatoes and straw mushrooms. Once again, some of my favorite foods.
Ah, but if you see the hot pot it sprang from (pictured on the right), you’ll notice those insidious peppers floating in the broth. Oh yes, after one sip from the soup, I knew I was a goner. It was flavorful, and I powered through, eating the tender eel, but the spice was too strong. I had to quit or not enjoy my meal. No amount of rice or beer would help me finish.
Sadly, this meant I missed out on two other soups (since my soup bowl was still full of my eel soup): the oxtail and seafood. I took pictures of them as well, but was too ashamed to post them since I could not in good conscience say I had tasted them.
Was the eel soup my only nemesis? No! The spicy bean dry curry in roe also almost defeated me. The pungent beans, which many claimed smelled like wet socks, didn’t bother me in the olfactory region at all. It helps sometimes to be perpetually stuffed up I suppose. Either that or I’m more forgiving of odors. (WTF does it mean to smell fishy? I like the smell of fish and fish sauce! What else would it smell like? BO on the other hand …)
I had only spooned three helpings of the beans/roe mixture onto my rice. The first taste alerted me to the spice, but I powered through in bits for the second spoonful. I took a break then, eating other things, sipping my beer, pretending I was okay. Finally, I girded my (tender)loins and ate the last spoonful all in one go, swallowing more than chewing. I hate to admit it, but I even gagged a bit. Luckily, I kept it down.
This is when I felt I might as well hand in my Asian membership card. I always thought that despite the fact I couldn’t speak Vietnamese well, my palate was well-trained in Asian cuisines and that I was open where others were not. Hell, I even impressed the locals in VN because I could stomach food from all regions (Northern! Southern! Central!) and didn’t mind durian in the slightest. Yes, I lorded it over Andrew Zimmern once upon meeting him.
Amongst my friends, I am the most adventurous eater: I love the blood jello in soups and am not turned off by offal in the least. I *thought* I could eat spicy, having learned to eat it through my parents and my upbringing in Texas, but that was all just Blue’s Clues or Dora the Explorer spice levels compared to Jitlada.
I (heart) the Kaeng Khew-Wan Kai “Mang-Kon.” Yes, it was incredibly mild compared to the evil eel soup and bean curry, but to be fair to me, I have always enjoyed the green curries the most of the traffic signal-colored Thai curries.
The duck eggs were stuffed with fish balls (no, not testicles, but fish meat-minced balls) and were probably one of my favorite dishes. The noodles, the egg, the veggies. So complete and non-threatening but savory.
As a child, I grew up eating balut, so duck eggs aren’t new, but this one was, um, less embryonic. No really, I adored this dish.
Hee hee. Frog legs are soooo overrated as a weird food. They’re just like tender chicken wings. I remember as a child my mom tricking me into eating them at some restaurant and only when I was halfway through the bowl did she reveal they were amphibian in nature. Eh, I finished my meal. They were tasty, as was this yellow curry.
I don’t know the name of this seafood and peppers dish, but it was succulent. I believe the catfish curry is Kaeng Plaa Duk Bai Cha-Phluuu, a spicy, tumeric seasoned dish w/ wild tea leaves.
I’m very familiar with catfish from the claypot fish dishes growing up, so recognized that cross section immediately.
After all that spice, for once in my life I was excited for dessert. The only Thai dessert I’ve ever had is sticky rice w/ coconut milk and mango, and I loved that. This one blew it out of the water.
The proprietress (Jazz perhaps?) arrived with much fanfare to explain that it had been two whole years since this particular dessert was made in Jitlada. It wasn’t even on the menu. Once we tried it, we were properly appreciative.
I think this is the Sang Khaya, a coconut jelly dessert that was incredibly sweet but delicate — kind of like the sweeter version of the custard cremes in cream puffs, but more watery. You were supposed to spread it on the toast, but I could see so many other uses for it — drizzled over fruit, drenching rice, paired with pound cake …
The Down and Dirty: I loved all of Jitlada, even the spicy dishes that kicked my ass. I was incredibly thankful for having been introduced to such a new flavor spectrum I had never tried before and eager to try more. There are no namby-pamby dishes flavor-wise, and if you’re just a little adventurous, it will pay off. Gringos like me (that’s what I felt like afterwards) can find plenty to eat that’s not spicy and plenty spicy to aspire to. Jitlada is tantalizing and exciting to the palate and, dare I say, even to your mind. Your preconceptions will be challenged. Your belly will be full. Your endorphins will be activated.
Thanks again to Sinosoul for setting up this evening and the other bloggers/food adventurers, who I met for the first time including snookerst, michellewoo (Congrats, Miss Engaged!), goodforyoursoul, EliseIsRad, estarla, feedmeLA and other names I didn’t quite catch.
5233 W Sunset Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90027