The Roof Caves In (literally) at LOTUS OF SIAM

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LOTUS OF SIAM TO REMAIN CLOSED FOR MONTHS

A botched roof repair job, a negligent landlord, and a fairly typical late summer rain provided the perfect storm for a major roof collapse at Lotus of Siam last Friday night. Because of it, Las Vegas’s most venerable (and internationally famous) Thai restaurant will remain shuttered for a least the next three months.

When reached for comment, Penny Chutima, the general manager of Lotus, said that the landlord, Mark Kaufman, had begun repairs weeks before the fateful rainstorm, but that the roofing contractors were unlicensed, uncoordinated and unfit for the job. “They never coordinated with each other or the businesses in the (Commercial) Center about what they were doing,” Chutima said. “They tore up entire sections of the roof, leaving bare wood and the structure exposed. When I asked about it (because rain was in the forecast), they only tarped my hood ventilation system. “

Chutima then posted on Facebook: “I was forced to go up onto the roof to try to sweep the water away to protect my customers, but it wasn’t enough.”

According to Chutima, she became concerned about the pending rainstorms last week, but got no response from Kaufman, right up until the time “I (had) a legit waterfall in my restaurant.”

With severe damage to both the dining room and kitchen, the operation won’t be back on line “…at least for a few months,” says Chutima. Until then, she anticipates continuing issues with her landlord, but the business has taken steps to repair the roof and water damage itself, rather than continuing to fight with Kaufman about things that should’ve been repaired months ago.

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Interestingly, Chutima’s and Lotus’s Facebook pages were filled with loyal customers and fans expressing sympathy, but also more than a few comments decrying the location of the restaurant as a “dump,” and “borderline dangerous,” with entreaties to the Chutima family to find a new location for their iconic restaurant.

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The Chutima family (which won a James Beard award in 2011) expressed loyalty to both their employees and the neighborhood: “We’ve been here since November 1, 1999,” said Chutima. “I support this neighborhood because there are many working families who want a job than can get…a house (and) most of them live on this side of town.”

In the meantime, Chutima, her chef mother Saipin, and her wine-collecting dad Bill, are looking for a temporary location to continue serving what many believe is the best Thai food in America alongside one of the great wine lists of the world.

 

CHADA THAI or CHADA STREET? Both!

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One has a big sign, announcing its presence in a large, almost all-Asian strip mall, directly on Spring Mountain Road. It is located just a mile west of the Strip.

The other is tucked into a small, all-Asian strip mall, a couple of miles further west.

One you can’t miss; the other you can miss standing right in front of it.

Both are relatively small — with one having a bigger feel to it, thanks to some overstuffed furniture and a long bar. Neither is open for lunch, which is a tragedy.

Chada Thai is darker; Chada Street is more brightly lit and feels more casual.

Large groups will do better at Chada Street; first dates will be impressed by Chada Thai.

Oenophiles will be impressed by both of them.

The service at both is excellent.

The wine list at Thai is shorter than the one at Street; the champagne list at Street is awesome; the markups at both are so mild you’ll wonder why you ever bother to drink wine (especially white wine) anywhere else in Vegas.

If I had to distinguish the food between them, I’d tell you that Street aims for rougher, urban, spicier fare — befitting its “Thai street food” moniker — while big brother Thai skews towards more traditional regional dishes, albeit with much nicer presentations, and in a more sophisticated setting than your usual neighborhood joint.

Look for dishes labeled “medium spicy” at both if you want to enjoy what you’re eating. “Medium spicy” enables you to enjoy both the food and those delicious white wines that compliment it. Anyone who doesn’t like the electric jolt of Thai chilies should book elsewhere. Anyone who asks for anything “Bangkok hot” has rocks in their head. (In this regard, the menu has a helpful chili pepper legend beside the hot dishes — dispensing with the old “pick a 1-10 level of spiciness” nonsense. Stick with 1-2 chili pepper symbols for the tastiest dishes….unless you’re a complete hothead, or a masochist.)

As for the food at both: it is flat out wonderful. At Thai, Bon Atcharawan (who recently took over from big brother Bank)  is as adept with crispy deep-fried oysters and larb, as he is with sea bass.

(Steamed sea bass with special plum sauce at Chada Thai)

They have tilapia on the menu in various guises, but the sea bass is the swimmer to get. Just as essential on this menu are the miang pou (crab-stuffed lettuce wraps), almost raw rib eye steak (yum nua) marinating in chili-lime dressing, green papaya salad (som thum), the house-made beef jerky (nua dad diew), and the rice powder-dusted crispy beef (pla nua tod):

…it being a study in crunchy/spicy/beefiness.

The thing about this food is that it never gets boring. You can have the same dish multiple times and be intrigued by the spices one time, or the balance between sweet and heat another. Or maybe it will be the fine interplay of proteins, textures and herbs that catches your attention. In no way do I profess to be an expert in Thai cuisine, but it doesn’t take a native to notice how these recipes have been honed over a millennia to orchestrate a controlled riot of flavors in the mouth. (Mediocre Thai restaurants always overplay the gloppy sweet-meets-heat paradigm, and miss the herbaceous, sour-bitter subtlety that characterizes a finer hand in the kitchen.)

From top to bottom, the kitchen at Chada Thai seems to ace dish after dish effortlessly. A small but mightier restaurant you will not find in Las Vegas.

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Chada Street, in its own way, is just as good.

Plating is not as refined (they use a lot of banana leaves here), and there’s a certain rustic simplicity to the recipes (lots of grilled and skewered items), but the food is no less tasty and the experience no less satisfying. Chili heads should plunge right into the goong share nam pla (raw shrimp bathed in incendiary spice);

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…and purists won’t want to miss the straight-from-the-Bangkok-streets calamari with salted duck egg (pla muk pad kaikem):

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…the sort of dishes that intrepid foodies dive right into when they’re deciphering the foodstuffs of an Asian capital.

Such is the menu at Chada Street: less refined, gutsier, and aimed more at the culinary adventurer in you. You can play it safe here with things like the crab fat fried rice (kao pad mun pu), or the crispy pork hock (ka moo tod), or the gorgeous shrimp pad thai.

For our money, though, it’s more fun to tuck into some koi nua (raw, diced, chili-dusted beef), and watch the sweat form on our foreheads.

No matter what your savory compulsions, you won’t want to miss the Thai toast at either location:

…it being the perfect shared dessert for a group of adventuresome foodies who need to quell the heat.

No matter how you slice your vertical bread, what Bon Atcharawan and Aime Wanmaneesiri are doing at these two restaurants is phenomenal. Having these two Thai siblings in town is one of the coolest things about eating (and drinking) in Las Vegas.

CHADA THAI & WINE

3400 S. Jones Blvd.

Las Vegas, NV 89146

702.641.1345

http://chadavegas.com/

CHADA STREET

3839 Spring Mountain Road

Las Vegas, NV 89102

702.579.0207

http://chadastreet.com/

The Hottest Dish in Town

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 If you’re they type who thinks supermarket taco sauce is too spicy, read no further. If the mere mention of Mexican food makes you meek, or Korean makes you queasy, or southern Indian inspires thoughts of gastro-injuries, click elsewhere. Because we’re here to celebrate the bringing of the big heat. The pinnacle of pepper-dom. The capsaicin crown, if you will.

Yes, we think we’ve found the hottest dish in town. As shockingly, electrically, volcanically hot as anything we’ve ever put in our mouth. And pilgrim, we’ve stuffed a lot of hot peppers into this piehole in our day.

Before we get to our chili champ, a little pepper primer is in order. Capasicin is the active chemical component of chili peppers. It is an irritant to mammals and produces a burning sensation in whatever tissue it comes in contact with. Pepper plants probably produce this off-putting present as protection against predators, i.e., animals and fungi that might want to eat them. Capsaicin collects in quantity in the seeds and the placental tissue surrounding them. That is why you are told to “scrape the seeds” out of various peppers before you use them, as a way of muting the effect. Amazingly, no matter how much pain a pepper produces, there are no ill effects to the human body from eating them. (Except what you might experience the next day.)

The “Naked Shrimp” dish at Ocha Thai (Gung Che Num Pa) is made with freshly ground Thai birds eye chili peppers. The chefs do not scrape the seeds. Instead, they pound these devils into a paste with mint, garlic, fish sauce and onions, and festoon the raw crustaceans with the mixture. You pick up the shrimp by the tail and take it whole, as it drips with a dollop of chilies. The effect (that takes about 15 seconds to set in) is one of having an electric, hallucinogenic shock sent through your nervous system —  a jolt that gives way to a searing heat that threatens not to leave for a week. After a minute or so panic sets in — a fear that the entirety of your mouth has been irreversibly seared by an oily, unctuous flame that has permanently attached itself to the sides of your tongue.

Only the jolokia ghost pepper at Mint Indian Bistro comes close to this level of heat. The difference being, the jolokia (at over a million Scoville Units) obliterates all taste sensation, these birds eye bad boys (checking in at 350,000 Scoville Units), actually enhance what you’re eating. (By way of comparison, the jalapeno rates a mere 2,500-5,000 Scoville Units.)

Through the pain, you can still taste the shrimp. And the mint. And the garlic. After two bites, you are entranced, spellbound, enveloped by pain and compelled to seek more eating pleasure. Such is the beauty of the dish. Such is the allure of Thai food.

Relax pilgrim, in five minutes your mouth will return to normal. After three or four Thai iced teas.

Serious chili heads owe it to themselves to check this dish out. The rest of you: bring a flamethrower, or just kick back and enjoy the rest of the very solid (and much less spicy) Thai menu.

OCHA THAI CUISINE

1201 Las Vegas Boulevard South

Las Vegas, NV 89104

702.386.8631

http://www.ochacuisine.com/