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Lotus of Siam, Las Vegas, NV, tasted on  June 30, 2004  Las Vegas is a funny place. It's essentially a completely fake place. I'm sure its residents would debate me, but I don't plan on living in Vegas any time soon. It's not that Seattle is so great, but I'm going to claim that Vegas is an even smaller town and if I were to move anywhere it would be to somewhere bigger. So, again, Las Vegas, is essentially a fake place, from a visitor's perspective. And yet, movies are fake and they can be enjoyable. And therein lies the rub. If you're looking for a high quality food experience that invariably involves a fair amount of authenticity, is it crazy to look for it in Las Vegas? On the strip? Maybe. Outside the strip in a super crappy Asian strip mall? Maybe not. In that very strip mall, miles away from the strip is buried Lotus of Siam. A tastingmenu reader (rightfully) gave me crap about always going to restaurants by absentee famous chefs on the strip and said I should try Lotus. So that's what we did. Never say that we don't pay attention to suggestions from readers. (Note: there are also likely many additional delicious Asian hideaways in this strip mall but we didn't have time to check any out - this time.)

Things started off with a few relatively standard Thai restaurant items - specifically we got Chicken and Pork Satay. The satay was good. Peyman particularly liked the pork. I thought the chicken was very good and unexpectedly sweet. The satay was followed by Nam Kao Tod - minced sour sausage mixed with green onion, fresh ginger, peanuts, crispy rice, and lime juice. Sounded great. It had super unique sour and spicy flavors that built up and up until they were super bright. The texture was incredible as well because of the crispy rice.

Next up was the Tom Yum Kung Hot Pot - Thai hot and sour shrimp soup. It was balanced, warm, and had a round flavor profile (think deep). There was disagreement on the Som Thum. Peyman thought this green papaya salad was "soggy". Alex however thought it was one of the better ones he had eaten. Another miss was the Pineapple Rice. Michael was disappointed. (And I can tell you from experience, you don't want to disappoint Michael.) The rice was definitely boring but not without some redeeming characteristics - specifically, the rice was buttery and nicely cooked. That said, did anyone really expect Pineapple rice to be exciting? I suppose if it doesn't make an impression, why put it on the menu.

Next up was the Charbroiled Large (and I mean LARGE) Freshwater Prawns with Chili Sauce. They were enormous. Michael's quote: "A travesty. Like Lobster but worse." The sauces that accompanied the prawns were great. But the prawn meat was dry and not flavorful. Frankly I have never had an oversized prawn where the meat was succulent and tender. I'm not sure why I keep ordering them. OK. I am sure. It's because I hope that when I do get one that is prepared well, there will be so much more of it to enjoy.

We were starting to get a little nervous but the meal ended with a string of hits. First up was the Beef Panang Curry. The curry sauce was flavorful. The beef was tender. The vegetables were crisp. Good. The Koi Soy was billed as "Issan style steak tartare". It had a cool crumbly texture, and then after 60 seconds it became spicy as hell. Very good. And finally, we got the house special - Flat Rice Noodles with Steamed Catfish. This was spectacular. The fish was buttery in texture and flavor. The noodles were subtle. They began with a strange sweetness and were slightly spicy on the finish. They had a perfect soft and firm texture. This dish was fantastic.

I must say that my first venture significantly off the strip to a restaurant that no casino would think about opening up a branch of was excellent. And while I don't know if this upgrades Vegas as a city with a lot going for it, I do hope there are more like it. And who knows. Maybe after a few more finds I'll be eating my words and telling everyone I know about Las Vegas as a culinary treasure of North America. For now, having a great meal at Lotus of Siam will do.











Tastingmenu is focused on superlative restaurant experiences from two perspectives: behind the plate and behind the stove. Tastingmenu is written by Hillel (professional eater) and Dana (up-and-coming professional chef) in Seattle, Washington.

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  Garlic has long been credited with providing and prolonging physical strength and was fed to Egyptian slaves building the giant pyramids. Throughout the centuries, its medicinal claims have included cures for toothaches, consumption, open wounds and evil demons. A member of the lily family, garlic is a cousin to leeks, chives, onions and shallots. The edible bulb or "head" grows beneath the ground. This bulb is made up of sections called cloves, each encased in its own parchmentlike membrane. Today's major garlic suppliers include the United States (mainly California, Texas and Louisiana), France, Spain, Italy and Mexico. There are three major types of garlic available in the United States: the white-skinned, strongly flavored American garlic; the Mexican and Italian garlic, both of which have mauve-colored skins and a somewhat milder flavor; and the Paul Bunyanesque, white-skinned elephant garlic (which is not a true garlic, but a relative of the leek), the most mildly flavored of the three. Depending on the variety, cloves of American, Mexican and Italian garlic can range from 1/2 to 1 1/2 inches in length. Elephant garlic (grown mainly in California) has bulbs the size of a small grapefruit, with huge cloves averaging 1 ounce each. It can be purchased through mail order and in some gourmet markets. Green garlic, available occasionally in specialty produce markets, is young garlic before it begins to form cloves. It resembles a baby leek, with a long green top and white bulb, sometimes tinged with pink. The flavor of a baby plant is much softer than that of mature garlic. Fresh garlic is available year-round. Purchase firm, plump bulbs with dry skins. Avoid heads with soft or shriveled cloves, and those stored in the refrigerated section of the produce department. Store fresh garlic in an open container (away from other foods) in a cool, dark place. Properly stored, unbroken bulbs can be kept up to 8 weeks, though they will begin to dry out toward the end of that time. Once broken from the bulb, individual cloves will keep from 3 to 10 days. Garlic is usually peeled before use in recipes. Among the exceptions are roasted garlic bulbs and the famous dish, "chicken with 40 cloves of garlic," in which unpeeled garlic cloves are baked with chicken in a broth until they become sweet and butter-soft. Crushing, chopping, pressing or pureeing garlic releases more of its essential oils and provides a sharper, more assertive flavor than slicing or leaving it whole. Garlic is readily available in forms other than fresh. Dehydrated garlic flakes (sometimes referred to as instant garlic) are slices or bits of garlic that must be reconstituted before using (unless added to a liquid-based dish, such as soup or stew). When dehydrated garlic flakes are ground, the result is garlic powder. Garlic salt is garlic powder blended with salt and a moisture-absorbing agent. Garlic extract and garlic juice are derived from pressed garlic cloves. Though all of these products are convenient, they're a poor flavor substitute for the less expensive, readily available and easy-to-store fresh garlic. One unfortunate side effect of garlic is that, because its essential oils permeate the lung tissue, it remains with the body long after it's been consumed, affecting breath and even skin odor. Chewing chlorophyll tablets or fresh parsley is helpful but, unfortunately, modern-day science has yet to find the perfect antidote for residual garlic odor.  

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