As of 12/31/11, I’ve completed these 257 dishes at Jitlada.
I’ll definitely hit my goal of 300 dishes in 2012!
click above for details
More at EatingTheMenu.com
My big sister Janet has always been like a mom to me (even thought she LOOKS younger than me), so when “Mother’s Day” rolls around, I make sure we do something special together, usually a family lunch out.
This year, only two of her kids (the twins, 13) were available during the day. Cody (20) was away training at L.A. Firefighter Explorers, and Camron (22) was working.
Thankfully, Janet’s husband Paul had the day off from the fire-station, so I made a reservation for a 1pm lunch.
Lucky Elephant Thai Restaurant is one of Janet’s favorites, located just five minutes from her home in San Dimas. She told me how much she loves the decor and food, but doesn’t get to go very often. The simple fact is, the Thai cuisine is a bit too “authentic” for most of the family.
Kindal and her big brother Cody are the most adventurous eaters, and I can usually get them to try anything. But Chace, Camron and their dad Paul are a little more reserved, apt to order an identifiable beef or chicken entree, instead of some extremely ethnic sounding dish.
Well, “Aunt Jo is treating on Mother’s Day… so bring on the Hormok Kanom Krok!”
The lovely interior. Such a pleasant surprise walking in from the mini-mall parking lot!
Lucky Elephant Thai
531 W Arrow Hwy
San Dimas, CA 91773
My husband Peter had “Good Friday” off last week and we did something we RARELY ever do together… we decided to go out to lunch.
Peter almost never takes lunch at work because he feels like it’s a waste of time (classic workaholic), unless it’s a business meeting of course. Not eating during the day, ensures that he comes home hungry for dinner, which means he ALWAYS likes what I make. The truth is, I can get a little cranky when he doesn’t love my cooking, so this “no lunch at the office” system works well for both of us.
Jitlada Thai Restaurant has been on our “to do” list since last summer, when I first read about it in the July issue of Gourmet magazine. It’s a favorite spot of our friend Jeffrey, who has eaten at even the best Thai restaurants in Thailand. We hoped we could get Jeffrey to join us for lunch, but he couldn’t make it.
I also emailed my food blogger pal, SinoSoul. He loves Jitlada so much that he hosts dinners there, gathering food lovers to experience the authentic, Southern Thai (meaning extremely SPICY) dishes together. He’s invited me to an upcoming Jitlada dinner, but when I read about the extremely painful aftermath of the last gathering, I feared that I may not be able to take the heat.
How does previous night’s dinner make you late to work the next morning? When you must explode with something fancy in the toilet. But hot damn the Southern Thai food was good on the way in.
I then clicked on a few other Jitlada blog links and thought FoodMarathon’s was particularly alarming:
I woke up this morning with a black tongue and my stomach precariously balanced between the volatile states of seizure and bleeding.
My apologies if the above offended you, but it’s the reason that I recently became a tiny bit fearful of Jitlada. I LOVE spicy food and can take it pretty, darn hot. Jalapeños are like cucumbers to me, and I add whole habañeros (seeds and all) to my eggs for breakfast. But I’ve never felt like I needed to visit the emergency room the next morning. Obviously Jitlada is a whole new, fiery experience.
So before I attend SinoSoul’s upcoming dinner, I hoped to at least get to Jitlada for lunch, and take sort of a test run. Good Friday turned out to be the perfect opportunity for Peter and I to try it together. SinoSoul wasn’t able to join us for lunch either, but thankfully he did email a list of dishes we should try. The menu is extensive and can seem very confusing if it’s your first visit, so it’s imperative that you do your research before you go.
Peter and I arrived a few minutes before they opened for lunch and were greeted by the lovely and charming, Sugar. She sat us in the second dining room next to the window and quickly took our drink order. I think she was a little shocked that we ordered Singa beer before noon… but heck, it was a holiday after all!
The menu was incredible and we would have been so LOST if SinoSoul hadn’t sent a list. When Sugar came to deliver our beers, she introduced us to her father Tui Sungkamee, who also happens to be the chef. We chatted for awhile then I handed them the printed list of items we would be ordering. It was fun to watch them carefully go over the dishes we wanted… Chef Tui double-checking the English-to-Thai translation with his daughter.
Our lunch was OUTSTANDING, and if you haven’t been to Jitlada Thai yet (or lately), you should make the time to go now. We didn’t ask for extra spice on any of the dishes, but most carried a substantial amount of heat. Nothing painful though, just a wonderful, warm, and incredibly flavorful rush. I knew that I could take it much, much hotter, so I felt a great sense of relief.
I’m really looking forward to SinoSoul’s Jitlada dinner now. First of all, he’s promised that he won’t intentionally try to scorch my palate, and second of all… I’m certain that I’ll have chef Tui and sweet Sugar watching over me. With over 300 items available (they don’t all fit on the menu), you can bet I’ll be returning again and again!
What we ate (and loved):
All my favorite Jitlada dishes (so far) on Flickr
5233 1/2 W. Sunset Blvd
Los Angeles, CA
Dining Date: 4/10/09
Jitlada article excerpt from Gourmet:
“Then, in 2006, the restaurant changed hands again. The new owners were Sarintip “Jazz” Singsanong and her brother Suthiporn “Tui” Sungkamee, two of 12 siblings from the ancient province of Nakhon Si Thammarat, in southern Thailand, near the Malaysian border—also the home province, coincidentally, of Jitlada’s previous owners. Singsanong, the first of her family to immigrate to the U.S.—she arrived in 1979 with the proverbial (as she says) “two hundred dollars and one suitcase”—had studied hotel management in Bangkok. She enrolled at L.A. City College to learn English and found part-time jobs in local restaurants before landing a job at the Biltmore Hotel. Little by little, she brought her family over, and she and Tui, who owned four restaurants in Thailand, began working with another brother, John, at a Thai restaurant in Westwood called Emporium, which is still in business. “We couldn’t really do authentic home cooking there,” says Singsanong, “because our customers didn’t like things too spicy.” Her dream was to have a restaurant that could and that would offer Tui a showcase for his talents. When Jitlada became available, they took it over.” Full Article here
My friend Laur invited me to lunch yesterday and suggested we go to Sri Siam Café, our favorite, local Thai joint. She wanted me to meet her niece Sherry, an intensive care nurse visiting from Chicago. I was totally fascinated with all of her exciting hospital stories, especially about the time she got to hold someone’s lungs during surgery (she said they felt “spongy”). Obviously it wouldn’t be appropriate lunch conversation for everyone, but for three gals with iron stomachs (sitting there filling ourselves with fiery Thai goodness), it was perfectly lovely.
I ordered the Spicy Basil Seafood with pan-fried Squid, Mussels, Shrimp, Sole, Peppers and Chilies. The dish came with rice and an eggroll and is not on the regular menu. Look for it on the “All Day Special” menu. $11.50
On each visit I’m trying to taste a new dish, but the one thing I have to order EVERY time is the Crispy Rice Salad with Sour Sausage (Nam). It’s tangy, spicy deliciousness!
Sri Siam has over 100 dishes listed on the regular menu, plus ten dishes on the “Specials” menu. If none of those delights interest you, then you can always check out the “Off Menu” items listed here (you may need some help with the translation).
Sri Siam Café
12843 Vanowen St.
North Hollywood, CA 91605
Sri Siam Café Website
Dining Date: 2/26/09 (Visit #4)
For my third visit to Sri Siam Café, I invited my good friend Bob for lunch. This time I was determined to eat Thai food the way I’ve always eaten Thai food… very HOT and very SPICY. Not all food has to set my mouth on fire to be pleasurable. There’s just something about Thai food that doesn’t quite taste “authentic” without the extra heat. I think it’s because when I first tried it (twenty years ago) the dishes were always extra hot and spicy.
For lunch I suggested Bob and I start with the Nam (crispy rice salad), which has Thai sour sausage mixed with roasted peanuts, ginger, green onion and crispy rice. The unusual sour sausage almost tastes like it was soaked in lime juice, and the crispiness of the individual rice kernels are a surprising, savory crunch. The spicy Nam had been my favorite bite from lunch the week before, so I wanted to share it again with Bob, and he LOVED it.
When I asked for “very hot and spicy” on my first two visits, the waitress smiled and brought me what I thought was a medium heat, which is totally understandable since I was a new Sri Siam diner. She probably assumed I didn’t understand how hot and spicy Thai food could be, and didn’t want to throw out perfectly good food just because I ordered incorrectly.
On this visit I asked our server (a waiter this time) which dish was the “spiciest” on the menu. He pointed directly to “Poh Tak” (spicy seafood soup). It’s a hot pot filled with mussels, shrimps, crab, fish and squid in a sour spicy broth. I ordered the Poh Tak and made sure the waiter understood that I wanted it extra spicy. I made a point of saying that my food wasn’t spicy enough before and to please ask the chef to make the soup extra HOT and VERY SPICY. The waiter then raised an eyebrow and was probably about to ask me “are you sure?”, when I butted in and pleaded “I need my food to be very, very spicy PLEASE!”.
When my hot pot of spicy seafood soup arrived, I gave the waiter a look of “hmmm… this looks a little spicy, but we’ll see if you succeeded here”. He graciously scooped out the first little bowl of soup for me and then I went ahead and started in on the beautiful (and delicious) green mussels. Bob ordered the Panang Chicken lunch special, which came with steamed rice, soup and a vegetable egg roll. After I took a few sips of my soup, Bob asked me a question and it was the strangest thing… even though I was trying to answer him, my mouth wouldn’t work. Right then my eyes started blinking and I sat there with my mouth open, struggling as I mouthed “OH MY GAWD”. This was the hottest (and spiciest) thing I had ever tasted in my life, and it was truly a whole new level of fire in my mouth.
I know spice and heat are all relative, but I just want to note that I can easily handle blazing habanero chilies (even with the seeds intact). One of my favorite spicy treats I make at home, is a dessert I saw on tv a few years ago called “Fire and Ice”. It’s half of a habanero chili filled with lemon sorbet. The fire and ice gets under your tongue and it’s sort of paralyzing (in a good way) for a second.
Back in my 20′s I read (in some glossy, fashion magazine) that rubbing a slice of jalapeno on my lips would make them plump… a cheap alternative to lip injections. On the morning I decided to try this “natural” method, I was also scheduled to meet my new boss, who was flying in for the day to check on his photo gallery. Following the magazine instruction, I cut a dime-size piece of the jalapeno and pursed my lips while I rubbed the chili round and round. At first, nothing… then came the screaming and crying. NOTHING took the pain away and I ended up with a large, uneven, red outer ring that looked like “double” lips. If you can remember “Wax Lips” candies, then you get the picture.
Later in the day, when my new boss shot me a strange look, I just laughed and said my lips were overly chapped and did my best to hide in the office. I never admitted that I’d purposely rubbed jalapenos on my tender, perfectly fine, natural lips.
Currently, I have my fridge stocked with habanero stuffed olives that I order online from Primos Gourmet. The habaneros are perfect little, painful explosions that make me do the “happy eating dance” around the kitchen.
Just how hot are habaneros? Chili peppers are rated by Scoville units. As noted on Wikipedia: “The number of Scoville heat units (SHU) indicates the amount of capsaicin present. Capsaicin is a chemical compound which stimulates nerve endings in the skin”. For example, on the Scoville scale, a bell pepper would measure 0 (that’s zero, zilch, nothing). Jalapeno peppers would measure from 2,500-8,000.
The hottest chili pepper I’ve ever eaten is the habanero, and it would measure approximately 100,000-350,000 on the Scoville chart. Culinary Masochism? Well, if that means I’m getting intense pleasure (go endorphins!) from intense pain (gastronomically speaking), then fine, I admit it…. I need a little C&M in my life.
Sri Siam’s spicy seafood ”Poh Tak” soup felt like it was OFF the Scoville chart, and at first I thought it was way too fiery for me. After the initial shock wore off in my mouth I absolutely LOVED the broth, and from then on it was a heavenly seafood feast of squid, crab, shrimp and those delicious green mussels. Poor Bob had to watch me wipe the sweat off my brow, and he laughed as I dashed to the restroom several times to deal with a heat-induced runny nose. This meal was the perfect Thai experience I’d been after.
When we finished lunch, I went back to the kitchen and thanked the chef. He gave me a little smile and looked a little baffled, so I wasn’t sure if he understood what I said to him. I can’t imagine it, but maybe it was the first time he’d ever heard, “Thank you, thank you… thank you for making me hurt so good“.
A few photos in the Sri Siam Kitchen, and the wonderful crew.
Sri Siam Café Website
12843 Vanowen Street (at Coldwater)
North Hollywood 91605
818 982- 6262
Dining Date: 1/16/09
I’ve never been to Noodle World in Alhambra, but just read a terrific article about it in the L.A. Times. The article warmed my heart so much that I decided to add a link.
Excerpt: A chubby, hamburger-toting diner statue in an Asian restaurant? For Thai American owner John Mekpongsatorn, it’s a perfect symbol of the Southern California melting pot he wants his chain to reflect.
I moved from Okinawa to Los Angeles when I was 8-years old and I remember going to Bob’s Big Boy with my grandfather… and feeling very proud to be an “American”.
Now I can’t wait to visit Noodle World and feel proud to be an Asian/American!
700 W. Valley Blvd.,
Alhambra, CA 91803
Twenty years ago when I lived in San Diego, my ex-husband and I loved eating at Karinya Thai Cuisine. The restaurant was up the street from our home in Pacific Beach, and it was our “go to” dinner place when we entertained visiting family and friends. We usually requested to eat in the “traditional” dining room . This meant we had to remove our shoes before going in, and sit on the floor atop beautiful Thai triangle pillows.
The head chef (an American) had married into the Karinya Thai family. Since we were regulars, the chef always took a few moments to tell us wonderful tales of his trips to the Far East. One of the best was about the first time he visited his wife’s family in a remote village in Thailand. He was shocked at the amount of time it took to shop for groceries each day. The entire family, led by the grandmother, would get up very early and drive for hours to pick up a particular type of chili, then go a couple of hours in the opposite direction to buy some galangal, and finally another hour south to pick up fresh kaffir lime leaves. By the time the shopping was done, they had driven five or six hours to get ingredients for THAT evening’s dinner. I found it fascinating that each ingredient was so special and distinct, that it was worth all that time and trouble.
The first time we invited our buddy Spencer (who was like a second grandfather to me), he laughed when he learned he had to remove his shoes for dinner. And after that first meal at Karinya, anytime we’d make dinner plans with ol’ Spence, he would ask “Are we going to the ‘shoeless place’? …if so, I’ll have to check my socks for holes”.
Two of my favorite dishes at Karinya were the “Gai Rad Prik” (they prepared it with deep-fried chicken covered in a super-spicy chili sauce) and “Shrimp Sarong” (shrimp wrapped with egg noodles, deep-fried and served with a sweet and spicy chili dip).
From my research, it looks like the original owners of Karinya sold the business in 1998. I moved to Studio City in 1994 and halfheartedly tried to find a new Thai restaurant near me (in the San Fernando Valley) to love, but nothing tasted as good or seemed as authentic as Karinya. There were no “foodie” sites on the New World Wide Web way back then, so I had pretty much given up on finding a Thai place I could call my own.
Then on January 1, 2009 I had lunch at Sri Siam Café. Peter (my husband) and I met up with our far-east-food-expert friend Jeffrey, for an incredible, unforgettable New Year’s Day Lunch. Jeffrey is a regular at Sri Siam and has not only eaten at all the best Thai places in Los Angeles but all the best Thai places in Thailand.
The best part about Sri Siam Café (besides the outstanding food) is that I won’t be pining for Karinya any longer. I can finally move on… and luckily for me… my new Thai joint is literally just up the street!
My Favorite Bites at Sri Siam Café:
For me, the fish cakes were just a vehicle for the relish. I ended up just spooning it out and eating it like gazpacho!
Update: 1/8/09 (Visit #2)
This morning my ex-husband Perry called from Santa Monica airport. He and his co-pilot John asked if I wanted to join them for lunch. They fly a private business jet and had a five hour layover, so I grabbed my friend Laur and we met them at Sri Siam!
I wrote (above) that twenty years ago, one of our favorite dishes from our old Thai restaurant in Pacific Beach was “Shrimp Sarong”, and that’s the first thing Perry ordered today. They were exactly the same to me, except Sri Siam calls them “Crispy Shrimps”.
It was sort of a sentimental moment for me. Sitting there with Perry eating a wonderful old favorite and talking about our families. He and his wife Karen have two beautiful kids, and I feel so grateful that we can still be in each others lives, especially when it’s over a plate of delicious food!
Before I left for lunch I sent my husband Peter a text message, to let him know I was meeting Perry at Sri Siam. Peter sent the following message back: “Well, just so you know, I’m really JEALOUS… really jealous that I’m missing the food! Say hi to Perry.“…
I know… lucky me.
Sri Siam Café
12843 Vanowen St.
North Hollywood, CA 91605
Sri Siam Café Website