Friday, April 24, 2009

Jitlada Junket; Around Southern Thailand in 15 Dishes

5233 W Sunset Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90027
(323) 663-3104

My new friend Tony of Sinosoul is a social genius with a love for food and a quirky acerbic sense of humor. Last Wednesday, he invited a group of like minded food obsessed blog loving people to meet at Jitlada to take over the east room and feast for hours. This was fun.

I didn't start blogging as any kind of social activity or money making venture. I just started to have an opportunity to write more, something sorely lacking in my professional life. And to add a framework around which to enjoy my food. Some focus, a raison d'etre. bloggers are fun and friendly and I have really been enjoying getting to know many of my peers this spring. I was seated next to FoodWolf, whose blog I have followed since I started blogging myself, and Infinite Fress whose blog is a completely different animal than mine but wholly enjoyable and a great read. I read Infinite Fress's latest post on my iPhone at Jumbo's Clown Room. Just mentioning. Also in attendance were Delicious Coma sitting back to back with me and behaving very thirstily, BSide Blog, Gastronomy Blog (whom I think I have met before), Eat, Drink & Be Merry with Oishii Eats (I have been following them both prior to the engagement post), Starchy Marie (who is a new one to me), Rants & Craves (who I met at a recent event), Life With a Whisk (fun cooking blog), WeezerMonkey, Sassy Flashy Classy (non-food girlie blog that I am now intrigued by, my dark secret is my addiction to girlie blogs), Wandering Chopsticks, and last but naturally not least Sinosoul's sweet gf/f sitting right next to me and taking care of D & me like an auntie (a beautiful, sexy auntie, but somehow auntie like nonetheless in making sure we got enough of everything to eat).

Tony's qualification of this meal follows:

That said, this wasn't meant to be a "deep end" meal. There is never intention to funk the hell out of people. Yes, the fermented bamboo in the "Thalaa" stank, yes the sator beans are a bit foul but... Exoticism was NOT the crux of the meal. We sampled light soups, thick curries, watery curries, salty stir fries, sickeningly sweet fried dishes, etc. The content of the evening is s'pose to portray a typical Southern meal, as inspired by Erik M:

The only Thai I have ever had are several versions of rather Americanized Thai. I have frequented Manora's Thai and Phuket in San Francisco, Lemongrass in Sacramento, and Rambutan, Toi, Chan Dara, TG Express (obsessively for cheap delivery of spicy mint noodles back in my K-Town days) and the now defunkt Suriyo Thai Bistro all in Los Angeles. I have never had Thai this authentic, and I am sure after this posting someone will be telling me somewhere even more authentic to go to, and I will happily do so.

Part of the motivation to go here is the knowledge via Chowhound that this is the best Thai in the city. The fact that Ms. Virbila gave it a great review didn't hurt. And the fact that Tony thinks all the Johnny-come-latelies post-review are going to ruin the restaurant sealed the deal.

W arrived a little late (due in part to a flat bicycle tire) and missed maybe a dish or two. So we started with the Black Pepper Drumsticks, a fried turmeric marinated chicken drumstick with green mango salad. This was offered with a little red pepper sauce, pretty mild. The chicken was also sprinkled with roasted sticky garlic. I would definitely eat this again. Crunchy, fried chicken goodness Thai style.

I don't see this one anywhere on the menu. It was a fresh tasting slaw style salad with cashews. It was sweet and sour and nutty with cabbage and bean sprouts.

This course was the delectable mild & sour ox-tail soup,
Sup Hang Wua. The flavor of lemongrass and lime in this were extremely bright, while the meat was a little sultry as ox-tail can be. I want a whole pot of this to myself.

The ox-tail. There were many dishes that passed from the kitchen to our tables. Because there were 33 of us, we all had to share. This was more like a Jitlada tasting evening than a regular meal. Which leaves us with a couple problems. Foremost, my pics are not great. I never saw a dish in its entirety and I was too busy flapping my maw and listening to articulate and wonderful foodies to care. (Does anyone else detest the term "foodie"? I have a personal bias against it that I won't share here. Suffice to say I find the term annoying. My apologies for using it.) Secondly, D left hungry. Even though his belly was full, he says that at a tasting meal, when the aesthetic of a full plate is never filled, he leaves feeling hungry.

Above is
Phangga jungle curry (pork spare ribs with Thai eggplant in spicy jungle curry), or in something slightly more profane, "OMFGMYMOUTHISONFIRE", and the fire in your mouth and on your lips lasts about 15 minutes. There were various reactions to this dish. D is an ass-kicker and ate everything on his plate and then kvetched for about 30 minutes. Infinite Fress is an ass-kicker, ate his share and wanted more, while wiping the sweat beads from his face with a napkin. Tony's gf/f ate hers, then gulped down her entire Thai iced tea in about 5 minutes, literally shoveling the ice into her mouth with a spoon. I suffered as much as anyone else, but kept a little pile of juice soaked rice on the side of my plate, eating tiny bites and suffering in small doses as the meal continued. I have to admit that I asked Infinite Fress to assess the spiciness of every other dish that crossed our paths that night.

Peppercorn on the vine from the OMFGMYMOUTHISONFIRE. I don't remember ever seeing peppercorns not removed, the shape and texture is really pretty. This dish really raised my threshold for spiciness. Everything else that crossed my path that evening was categorized into "not spicy at all", or "really spicy but nowhere near as spicy as OMFGMYMOUTHISONFIRE".

The dish above was one of my favorites.
Phat Luuk Taw “Meung Khong, Nakhon Sri Tammart style stir-fried sator beans with shrimp/ground pork/squid. When it reached the table, people started commenting on the fragrance. Not an altogether pleasurable fragrance.

Turns out the sator bean is also called a stink bean. A small green bean, sliced in half. At first I avoided eating these because in my mind they were the tips of jalapeno peppers. However, after undergoing some education I decided to give the stink bean a whirl.

The sator is a delicious little bean. Tastes like mushroom.

Above is the basil frog leg. Frog legs have a really silky texture. Not like chicken, not like fish, maybe something in between. Really delicious little mounds of meat, these were served with crispy fried basil which is a big love of mine.

We also had a dish with a fish cake stuffed with duck egg. Delicious and exotic.
Kaeng tai khai “Mang Kon” – Southern style curry with jicama & house made fish balls stuffed with duck eggs. I love the slightly rubbery fish cake, and I love eggs. This was fun.

Above is soft-shell crab on a mango salad. While this dish was nice, and my palate was ready for the fresh fruitiness of the mango, I really could not discern the flavors of soft-shell crab through the cooking and saucing method. I have eaten a lot of soft shell crab in my life, and it is really a delicate flavor. Having said that, I really enjoyed the dish.

Out comes a palate cleansing soup,
Kaeng Jeut plaa meuk yat sai - light flavored soup with minced-chicken-stuffed squid. I don't think I got any meat in my portion, but that was fine. I was really full at this point. I slurped at the delicious broth and enjoyed the al dente cabbage, carrots and green onions.

Next was a dish that really captured my imagination. Not everyone was willing to taste this, and I am here to share that if you passed, you missed out.
Kaeng leung “Thalaa” . This is a signature curry dish, with no coconut milk. The key ingredient is fermented bamboo, and boy did this stink. It smelled like sweaty feet in dirty socks. But the flavor was brilliant. Smoky, bitter and juicy with very little heat and some nice catfish chunks. I like.

The last dish I sampled were a few bites of the
Narathiwat green curry – steamed rice noodle topped with coconut milk green curry & chicken. This was delicious, the coconut milk gave it a nice creamy sweetness. I just had a couple bites to taste. If Jitlada does food to go, this could be an HG soup for the 3 cold weeks during the cruel LA winter.

Thanks Tony, for the wonderful event, the fascinating food and the chance to be in the company of such brilliantly food loving humans.

Please see B-Side blog for much superior pics and an even better rundown of the heat at Jitlada.


sassy susy said...

great review!

seriously my stomach was cramping the next day... haha

Steve said...

It was great meeting you & D and much fun reading your review of such a memorable evening. By the way, my ability to withstand egregious degrees of heat pales in comparison to your almost supernatural ability to break through the rankness of that fermented bamboo soup to enjoy its finer nuances.

Thanks for your kind words and I hope to see you and D very soon.

Steve said...

There has got to be something at Jumbo's more entertaining than the Infinite Fress of all things.

Food, she thought. said...

Thanks! I am enjoying your blog.

Fermentation is one of mankind's greatest gifts to itself. The harnessing of it has brought us many valuable beverages. And with regard to Jumbo's, after a few songs, not really.

Daily Gluttony said...

Hey FST,

Great post!

Unfortunately, I never met you at a previous event, nor did I get to meet you that nite @ Jitlada! I found out that you were you when you got up to leave and I was so bummed that I didn't get to say hello since I *heart* your writing!

And btw, anyone who can hang at Jumbo's is cool in my book.

Food, she thought. said...

Daily Gluttony:

I could swear I met you at the STK event, but just really briefly. The Jitlada event was fierce! Hopefully Tony/Julie the Cruise Director will throw something else together sometime soon...I had such a great time!

Unknown said...

the dishes looks so delish!

eggplant is really one of the simplest dishes to make anywhere in the world so long as you can get hold of eggplant and sauce package.

Here I bought a sauce pack so as to skip all the seasonings! and i will try this friday after work.