Friday, October 9, 2009

La Thai Restaurant

My brother-in-law is enamored of Thai cuisine and would seek out the hidden gems, hole-in-the-wall restaurants that offered the best Thai delights for the best price.  Often, I would accompany him and my sister on his excursions around the Bay Area and I vividly recall my first dinner at a quaint, home-style establishment called Chao Praya.  The dining area was packed with as many tables as they could fit in the relatively small space they had available and each table was covered with a lacy, paper tablecloth that could be whisked away and tossed after each party left the restaurant.  The chairs were rickety and we would be crammed at the smallest table possible for a party of four.  All this didn’t matter a bit when the food came pouring out of the kitchen.  It was true, home-cooked delicacies and we partook of some fabulous curries, ranging from spicy hot to sweet and creamy.  The cha-yen (Thai Iced Tea) was deliciously balanced with a thick layer of condensed milk sitting on top of strongly brewed black tea flavored with star anise and orange blossom water.  I will never forget Chao Praya.

Since I wanted a change of pace from the cheat dinners I had already experienced (and I was craving some Thai Iced Tea), I was sure that La Thai Uptown would fit the bill.  I was curious as to how they would manage a Thai-Cajun infusion.  I had noticed La Thai during my previous cheat when I visited Creole Creamery and thought it would be a good change of pace from the restaurants I had previously visited.  This is my 8th week and my 8th cheat and I am down 34 pounds.

When John and I walked into La Thai, I was a little shocked by the sparseness of the décor.  The entry opened up onto cement floors with an open ceiling with exposed steel beams overhead.  Rows of ceiling fans dropped below the beams and stretched all the way to the back of the long, hall-shaped restaurant.  On the left side of the restaurant, there was a long brick bar with stools running down the length of it and the front of the restaurant had small tables and a couch area for people who might pop in for a cocktail.  There were decorations over the windows that I couldn’t quite place that looked like wreaths of flowers and lace in shades of green and gold.  All they needed was a touch of purple and the Mardi Gras theme would be complete!

The main dining area was separated from the front by a thin, lacy curtain suspended from a beam.  John and I were seated quickly and offered water and drinks.  I ordered a Thai Iced Tea and was pleased to note that it was just as delicious as I remembered from Nipa-Pon, albeit a little sweeter.  After browsing the menu, we decided to order a couple of appetizers. Both sounded too delicious to choose just one, so John ordered the L.A. Oysters made with a pecan crust, artichokes, leeks and a tri-pepper chili glaze and I got the Crispy Coconut Shrimp with a sweet chili soy glaze.  Both dishes arrived shortly after we ordered.  Four large shrimp were served in a large martini glass with the sauce sitting at the bottom.  Each piece was surprisingly crunchy and quite tasty when dipped in the sweet pepper glaze.  Although I enjoyed both appetizers, the oysters were my favorite.  The big, juicy oysters were fried in a delicious pecan crust and the tart flavor of the artichoke and leek went so nicely with the chili glaze…it makes my mouth water as I write this.  There were five oysters and John and I fought over who got the odd piece.

As a side note, I have to ask, why do restaurants serve appetizers with an odd number of items on the plate?  I have witnessed this so many times at so many different restaurants. Have I discovered a culinary conspiracy? They seem to serve an odd number of items on purpose so either you’ll order another plate or so the waiters can be entertained by the squabbling that ensues.  Hmmm…

Anyhow, I am sure our server was properly entertained by the fork wars at our table because as soon as we scraped up the last scrap of oyster and artichoke, she arrived to whisk our plates away to prepare us for the main course.

I was actually really excited about my entrée because I hadn’t enjoyed this particular fish in quite some time due to an overwhelming sense of guilt.  You see, in California it was stamped into our brains that Chilean sea bass is severely overfished and is rated “Avoid.” In addition, most Chilean sea bass in the U.S. market come from boats that are fishing illegally and using unmodified bottom longlines. This unmodified fishing gear hooks and drowns thousands of seabirds each year, most notably endangered albatross.

Since moving to New Orleans, I have doffed several of the “touchy-feely” caps I was forced to wear in California.  Admittedly, I have still avoided eating Chilean sea bass for quite some time, almost 15 years in fact, but when I read the menu and saw the Chilean Sea Bass cooked in a panko crust with veggies, lump crabmeat and spicy coconut green curry, I just couldn’t resist any longer.  Chilean sea bass is fabulous regardless of how it’s prepared, but La Thai created something wonderful!  I especially enjoyed the coconut green curry that, although a tad oily, had such a wonderfully sweet, warm flavor that perfectly matched the tender, almost shellfish-like flavor of the sea bass.  I really shouldn’t recommend this dish (cringing inside) but I have to.   Do try it when you visit La Thai…but not too often!

John decided to order one of the specials, a Seafood Curry with Louisiana crawfish, jumbo shrimp, soft-shelled crab, spicy green curry with eggplant, bell peppers, onions, carrots, basil and Jasmine rice.  His dish was also delicious and so spicy that John sucked down two Cokes and a water to combat the heat.  That’s the spicy Thai food I remember!

Although we were stuffed (no surprise there!), I had to order a dessert.  The Coconut Fried Bananas with Coconut Ice Cream caught my eye when I first looked at the menu and it was just as I imagined it would be.  The bananas were sweet and warm with a tasty, crunchy exterior and the cool, creamy ice cream complimented them perfectly.  I asked the server if their ice cream came from Creole Creamery next door and she exclaimed “Of course!”

Despite the fact that La Thai was not much like Chao Praya , I still completely enjoyed the Cajun-Thai infusion we experienced.  Everything was well prepared and our service was excellent.  As usual, as we strolled down Prytania to our car, I began considering where our next cheat meal would be and already formulated several options.  Thankfully New Orleans offers us so many gastronomic delights to choose from!

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