Saturday, July 31, 2010

the inevitable jitlada post, probably *not* the one you want to read.

yeah. i knew i'd get around to it. i haven't been to jitlada in maybe six years, and i remember liking it but not loving it. it was quite possibly before the current owners took over and transformed it into the internet-loved-and-hyped, southern thai cuisine palace that it is today. i hhhhhhhhhhhate hype but if a family-run business deserves it, then kudos.

i went on a saturday at lunchtime. jitlada is in a small mini-mall with an even smaller parking lot. saturday at 11.30 am still meant that there were several cars double parked in an already full lot , but there was a decent amount of parking on sunset blvd, albeit with meters. the place , however, was empty. almost. our party of six walked in and was met by two older gentlemen, one who greeted me in thai (?) and i think said "hello again." again? either i have a doppelganger, or someone remembered me from half a decade ago (i'm going with doppelganger). neither actually helped us to a table, but one of the handful of servers ushered us to a table in the back of a honey wood paneled, wood furniture filled room. two other tables were filled--one was a large group of buddhist monks, and the other a smaller table of young thai women in white, who were not eating. it soon became clear that they weren't there for the food, but to pray with the monks, who started their prayers soon after we sat down. lulling, mesmerizing. a real honour; a good sign.

the menu is massive, more type than photos, with a somewhat confusing numbering system--you will find several numbers repeated and they aren't in any particular order. there is a "regular" or "front" menu, and then two densely packed back pages with southern thai specialties. our nice waitress was very patient and amusingly (to me, anyway) so not thai. she did well with us jumping around the menu, and only needing the slightest of clarifications with our requests. she did not, however, ask us about our heat level tolerance, and i forgot to tell her. i actually found almost everything to be at a high, but acceptable level for the most part. can't say the same for the rest of the table (sorry). i did not read any reviews or order suggestions beforehand, mainly because i forgot, but then again, i don't really listen to anyone anyway. however, if you are interested, there are numerous reviews and suggestions under the glass at every table, and on the walls.

the service was good, not particularly speedy, but not slow. dishes tended to come out one at a time, rather than together. we started with soup from the southern thai menu in the back, no. 89 cucumber clear soup. it was exactly that, a clear soup with slices of cucumber, ground chicken, and cilantro, flavoured with ginger or galangal and lemon grass. no spiciness, and not overwhelming in flavour, but a nice way to whet the palate. simple, homey. one of my favourites of the meal. there was pad thai, which was okay. i'm not a fan, and i am especially not a fan of ones that come in a sallow sweet orange sauce, so allow me to ignore it. the other starch was spicy brown rice (no. 126 in the front menu), which i also ignored. i like fried rice, but not as a starch to a meal, and not as a side component a meal, but as a one-course dish. i did try a bit of this was good as such--chewy, not too oily and all the flavours one would hope to find in a fried rice, along with their signature heat. it would have been interesting to try this with traditional red rice, but i think the brown rice provides a better texture.

jitlada spicy brown fried rice


jitlada water crest (kang kong) in a lemon  sauce

the water crest (kang kong or water convolvus) in a light lemon sauce (no. 9 in southern menu) was very good--crunchy, sweet, weedy. the sauce nothing more than the liquid from the crest from cooking, and a light lacing of lemon. despite the presence of several small dried thai chilis, there wasn't any heat to this as well. we also had chinese broccoli (kailan or gailan) prepared in a similar manner with cashews added on top. i found this to be slightly overcooked, but still tasty.

jitlada fried morning glory salad with shrimp

an apparently vaunted dish is the fried morning glory salad with shrimp (no. 91 in southern menu). i don't remember eating this. i don't even remember ordering this, or it even being on the table. maybe someone ate it all, it was so good. i should point out that there aren't that many vegetable dishes on the menu, and there are listings for both water crest and morning glory dishes. however, both signify the same vegetable, kang kong or water convolvus, or hollow vegetable.

jitlada crab and pumpkin southern style curry

crabmeat, pumpkin (kabocha squash), and long beans in a dry southern curry sounded better on paper than in execution. the crab meat was okay--restaurant service-quality canned blue crab perhaps--but still sweet, the kabocha and long beans cooked just almost to the edge of overdone. i believe you have a choice of curries for this, and the southern curry overwhelmed the flavour of the crab and pumpkin. this is a lovely idea, but pick a different curry.

jitlada kaeng kóp sôm tháwn

kaeng kóp sôm tháwn, frog legs and santol fruit in curry (also no. 9 in the southern menu. ha! so be careful!) . now this is something i would order, did order. a coconut creamy, spicy yellow curry with a generous portion of frogs' legs and santol, a tropical fruit that is related to mangosteen. i was disappointed to find that the santol fruit used was the red variety, and not the velvety yellow variety i'm used to eating on guam and in the philippines. the difference is that the red variety has brown flesh and a mostly sour taste like a tamarind, whilst the yellow variety is white fleshed and has a more sweet-sour taste like its cousin mangosteen. i think the yellow variety would offer a more interesting contrast of flavours, but i liked the plummy-ness of the fruit in this. the frog legs were somewhat overcooked and not the best quality i've had, but yes, you can tell it doesn't taste just like chicken and thank goodness for that. the joint cuts left brittle shards of bone throughout the dish that were a slight nuisance, though.

jitlada fried red snapper salad


not the most exciting of dishes, but i really enjoyed the relative simplicity of the fried red snapper filets with a cucumber, tomato and cilantro salad and sweet and sour dressing. everything was well balanced, with a lot of crispy textures playing against the moist flesh and soft tomato and the not overpowering sweet and sour dressing enhancing the vegetal elements as well as the delicate fish.


jitlada sea bass

i don't remember exactly which dish this is, but i don't think it was on the southern thai side of the menu. it is a whole sea bass, fried, then smothered in what is generally known as a jungle curry, but i think is described as "wild curry" in jitlada's menu. i really loved the sauce on this--it's hardcore bitter, spicy, and tough--it really tastes like someone just went hacking through a thai jungle with a machete, picked up the detritus along the way and chucked it into a cauldron to simmer into semi-submission. i did have issues with the sea bass, however. we checked the market price on it, and this dish came out to almost $40 for the one fish, to which we consented; however, i seriously doubt it topped the scales at more than one pound, pound and a quarter, maybe. i was expecting something more substantial--not monster, but i found the size of the fish for the price to be unacceptable.

despite the issues with the seafood, i did enjoy the meal. i'm not entirely sure i would order any of the same dishes again, especially with so much to explore in the massive menu. maybe the water crest in lemon sauce, especially since there aren't very many straight veggie dishes on the menu. i'm not particularly excited about the menu's southern thai cuisine slant, like many people seem to be; it doesn't seem to be too far from what i can get in other places in los angeles, and it is definitely what i can find here in guam, philippines and most of asia. however, i do acknowledge that the chefs and cooks of jitlada do what they do well. i like the space--it's intimate without being too small, homey but actually one of the nicer decorated thai restaurants i've visited in thai town. the service is somewhat perplexing as it seems that the less help they have on hand, the better the service seems to be. everyone seemed quite pleasant, and even though i'm pretty sure it was different management the last time i was in there many years ago, there was a familiarity about them and possibly about me that made me feel quite comfortable in the space. i would definitely go back on a weekend lunch if it means so few people. it won't be my first or second choice, but definitely an option every now and again.

jitlada

5233 west sunset boulevard
hollywood 90027
323.667.9809.

8 comments:

Jennifer said...

We went there as a part of J.Gold's 100 things list - we had the owner waiting on us, which didn't help us avoid the marginal pad thai either... but if / when you go back - get the rice salad that is in the articles on the wall or under the table glass... hands down the most amazing dish they offer and I actually would return JUST to eat that.

santos. said...

hi jennifer! thanks for the recommendation. i will go back, and order just that.

santos. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
KirkK said...

So Santos - Were you still craving Black Egg Pow after this meal! ;o) The food does look much lighter than some of the Southern Thia fare I've had.

santos. said...

hey kirk! how did you know?? :) i went to yai that night, had the black egg pow and the trout nam tok. so ono! jitlada is good--even great--but it's like a whole menu filled with party/special occasion food, when all i really want it something everyday ordinary and home cooked, you know what i mean?

Lannae said...

Have you gone anywhere in 90049, my former zip? :) I love the photos you have taken of L.A. It reminds me of why I love L.A.

santos. said...

hi lannae! is that brentwood? i went to skirball the other week, that's 90049 :) i gotta get down to brentwood country mart soon.

Lannae said...

That is Brentwood. I loved the Brentwood Country Mart! I hope you get lots of delicious foods during your next trip to the BCM.