Just relaxing on an islet in the Caribbean

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

LOTUS OF SIAM - Tantalizing Thai Cuisine in Vegas

Do not let the dilapidated, East side Vegas shopping center deter you from walking into Lotus of Siam. Behind the nondescript entrance intoxicating aromas entice you with an overabundance of simple yet exquisite Thai cuisine dishes.

The impressive, reasonably priced wine selection would put a Cheshire grin on the portly mug of Bacchus himself. Jonathan Gold - food writer/ LA Times, said Lotus of Siam "is the best Thai restaurant in North America". I concur wholeheartedly. Chef/Owner, Saipin Chutima implements the finest quality ingredients and melds flavors reminiscent of my experience of true Thai cuisine. Chef Chutima opened Renu Nakorn in Norwalk, California although has since sold to family members.

My dining group and I were punctual for our dinner reservation (dinner reservations are highly recommended) and were promptly seated in full view of the acclaimed wine cellar collection. After perusing the vast menu and conferring with our waiter we methodically choose dishes from various regions in Thailand. We found the Northern region to be the most interesting. Even with a filled to capacity restaurant our server delivered our food in a timely manner.

A main staple in Asian cuisine, garlic prawns are deep fried in the shell and served with a pungent sweet-salty garlic sauce. The Soft Shell Crab salad combines fresh chiles, lime and peanuts. The small crab, with a light and crispy outer shell was tender and moist inside - a crustacean lover's delight.

A popular Northern dish is the Nam Prik Noom - gently roasted sweet green chilies, fresh garlic and tomatoes are pounded to a flavorful pulp in a mortar and served with pieces of crackly pig skins and sticky rice. We requested Chef kick up the Scoville units for some serious classic Thai chili heat. The result, HOT and delicious.

After enjoying two bottles of crispy white wine and traditional Sticky Rice with Mango for dessert it was time for my satiated dining group to depart Lotus of Siam. As I waited for our taxi to arrive I visualized future trips to the neglected shopping center where star Chef Saipin Chutima passionately awaits those who savor traditional Thai cuisine.

Lotus of Siam on Urbanspoon

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Eva's Caribbean Kitchen

The small transformed South Laguna cottage has a laid back vibe and pungent aromas of cumin, curry and garlic permeated the air.  It is hard to fathom only weeks ago Eva’s Caribbean Kitchen in South Laguna was closed due to an early morning fire in the storage area.  The temporary hindrance forced Chef/Owner Eva Madray to prep ingredients, blend spices and mix marinades from her home.

The Caribbean décor of bright orange ceiling rafters, pale green walls and whimsical wall mounted face masks set the tone for an enchanting evening of succulent Cajun jumbo white prawns, Aubergine Choka and soothing spirits.  I observed as several large groups of thirty something hipsters appeared to compete for Eva’s attention and engaging personality.

Eva - from a large cooking family in Ghana – acquired ownership of the restaurant approximately 11 years ago when locals knew the place as Drew’s Caribbean Kitchen.  In conjunction with local South Laguna resident and eight year employee, Melanie Stablein, the two operate this neighborhood gem where lovers of the exotic elixir may enjoy over one hundred world class rums.

My special rum punch of the evening was handmade earlier in the day by Eva.  A tumbler of organic citrus juices, spices and rum was served with a thick mango slice stir stick.  The stealth like libation quietly permeated my senses with a smooth, yet powerful, strike.  Shortly after, Eva kindly offered me a shot glass full of creamy, rich rum from Ghana.  The milky rum infusion was a nice alternative to typical clear rums served in most bars and restaurants.
While most every seat in the restaurant was full, I dined solo at a corner table.  Eva and Melanie kindly took turns checking on me and brought me samples of various rums to taste.  The stellar service had me feeling as if I were the only patron in the place.
For lovers of capsaicin I recommend the organic Jadori Jerk Chicken.  Marinated for two days in house made jerk sauce, grilled and finished off in the oven the result is moist chicken swimming in spicy-hot jerk sauce with Scoville units off the charts.  Eva has managed to perfect the technique of properly cooking poultry – my chicken was evenly cooked throughout. Daily menu items include Jerk salmon, jerk pork loin and jerk steak.  Clam, lobster and tomato are the base for Callaloo Soup with ribbons of spinach, okra and coconut milk from Trinidad making up the flavorful broth.

After telling Melanie that evening was my first time dining at Eva’s, she kindly served me a complimentary dessert and aperitif.  My coconut crème brulee had a wafer thin caramelized crust and strands of tender coconut throughout the rich custard.  With my spoon I gently tapped the top of my dessert cracking through to a heavy tropical coconut crème beneath.
My future trips to Eva’s will include tasting conch fritters and sampling flights of exotic rums.  I sipped Zaya rum from Trinida and realized not even a destructive fire could shut down a beloved neighborhood restaurant where locals and tourists alike may dine on the best Caribbean food around while sipping rums from all around the world.

Eva's Caribbean Kitchen on Urbanspoon
Closed Mondays; outdoor courtyard dining
Beer, wine & lots of rum