Thursday, February 26, 2009

Jitlada: Taste vs. Expectation (Tasting Thai Town Pt. 1)

I REALLY felt like exploiting Alyssa’s current interest in foreign flavors tonight so I suggested we pay a visit to Thai Town. I did a little bit of restaurant research and, after an arduous process of careful evaluation, I narrowed it down to Jitlada on Sunset Blvd. This small joint has been garnering quite a bit of attention and, after knowing that Jonathan Gold listed it as among one of his favorites, I was sold.

Needless to say, I was filled with high hopes about this place. As if the countless A+ reviews weren’t enough, the restaurant smelled like food heaven when we stepped in. When seated, we were handed the menu and, at first, it looked almost identical to the one at Emporium Thai in Westwood. They even had the same color scheme and layout (no joke). So why drive 30minutes out to Thai Town for a menu I could get 3minutes away from the apartment? The answer is simple: SOUTHERN THAI MENU.

(I REALLY wasn't joking about the similar menu thing)

That’s right. I flipped to the last two pages of the menu and, sure enough, there was that big fat, legendary list I had heard circulating about the LA foodblogasphere. There must’ve been over 150 items in that list! I read enough for school already so I wasn’t about to read the novella of food choices. I did one quick scan and set my heart on the poo nim phat phong kari/soft shell crab sautéed with curry powder and vegetables ($15.99). I’m a sucker for soft shell crab so I was, quite literally, VERY excited about this dish.

It arrived at the table and it smelled. AMAZING. I plopped two spoonfuls of rice onto my dish and dove into the crab. The sauce? Effin’ fantastic. Fragrant and sweet with just a teensy bit of spiciness to it. Yes, I was scared by the “curry powder” at first because I suck and have a weakass tolerance for spicy foods. But I asked the waitress about the spiciness level and she assured me that I would be able to handle it. I guess she told the kitchen to tweak it for my delicate sensibilities. Besides, I think the curry powder was supposed to be for the fragrant taste rather than for spiciness – if anything, any bit if spiciness I could taste came from the small strips of chili peppers in the dish. So, yes, five gold stars for the sauce. Now, more excited than ever, I prepared myself for my soft shell crab fiesta. I took a bite and…

…welllllllllllllllll…you know when, sometimes, what you get is just not what you expected? That’s what the crab was like. It wasn’t bad or anything (au contraire, there was a beautiful burst of fatty crab roe in every bite) but there was a slight problem in terms of personal taste. You see, the first time I tried and fell in love with soft shell crab was at a Vietnamese place – dry, crunchy, and sprinkled generously with spicy seasoned salt. Powerful stuff that would make me fight my family for the last piece – even if it were just a tiny scrap of leg meat. Here, at Jitlada, it was soaked in a sweet curry sauce which, although delicious in its own right, masked the flavor of the crab to a significant degree and took away part of its lovely crunchiness. So, was the dish great? Yes. Was it life-changing? Probably not. Was it worth $15.99? Probably definitely not (OKOK, to be fair, it WAS chock full of veggies and crab. But TASTE-WISE, it's not worth the dough).

(Soft shell crab = vaguely orange thing in lower right corner)

And I wasn’t the only one who wasn’t completely blown away. Alyssa left half of her southern curry shrimp with pineapple. I tried a little of her curry and – as she said – it was NOT spicy at all (I mean, I could take it – how spicy could it be?) She ordered “medium spicy” but, the waitress, seeing that she was blonde-haired and blue-eyed and not knowing about her half-Mexican-ness, tweaked the spicy level to toddler-level-mild. Oh, poor, poor, discriminated against Alyssa. We did, however, both agree that the shrimp was cooked perfectly. I took a bite into it and was really REALLY impressed – I’ve never tasted cooked shrimp like this before. It had the same, bouncy, fresh taste and texture that was similar to the “live shrimp” I had at Sushi Masu.

Service was a bit iffy. Don’t get me wrong – everyone was friendly and helpful. BUT, on arrival, there was no one at the door. We had to actively FIND someone to seat us. And, when we asked the waitress about our dishes when ordering, she chimed “ooOOoo…it’s the BEST combination.” We were happy to hear that…until we heard her speak the exact same words to another table who had ordered something entirely different from what we had.

So, no, Jitlada didn’t blow me away (I really wanted it to but I just can’t lie) but maybe we were just unlucky this time. Plus, there were SO many items on the menu...I can't do this place justice with just one go. The place was continuously packed and everyone seemed to be enjoying their food. A LOT. I’ll probably give it another try. Because Jonathan Gold loves them and I love Jonathan Gold.

And maybe I’ll get the mussels…

FOOD: On the fence. But benefit of the doubt says 3.9/5
SERVICE: 3.75/5

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

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