Saturday, June 25, 2011

It's Lao, Not Lousy

The cuisine of Laos features all the influences of it's neighbors: Thailand, Vietnam, and to a lesser
degree China with some residual from French colonization.

The condiment tray at every table resembles what you'd see at the typical Vietnamese chow stop:soy and fish sauces, Sriracha, and jars of crushed chilis, chili paste... and then that dark one to the far left... the other side of chili paste. It's dark roasted chilis crushed and mixed with oil. It's also kick ass, for both flavor and heat.

Lao sausage: chopped fatty pork blended with seasonings, I can detect cilanto, garlic and chilis... deep fried and served with a spicy dipping sauce based upon roasted/burnt tomatoes. Alone, this sauce would make a better salsa than any Mexican can ever dream is possible. This place mixes and stuffs their own sausage and all of their own sauces.
Wrap the sausage in a lettuce leaf, dip, eat... and let your mouth explode with a mosh of flavors. Yum.

Khua Mee Lao: Pan fried rice noodles in sauce with eggs, sprouts, cilantro, and onions

Marinated Beef Steak: grilled to a medium rare, served with a pungent hot/sour dipping sauce that seems to be based upon fish sauce and chilis. The raw cabbage slice is a good compliment.

Spicy Pad Kra Pao: Chopped chicken stir-fried with basil leaves, bell peppers, onions and habanaros. Add a side of steamed rice (to smooth the edges) and you'll want more.

Vientiane Restaurant, where all this euphoria regularly takes place, is a small storefront location with tight seating for about 40 at the most. All of their sauces, as previously noted, are prepared in-house and also made available for sale over the counter along freshly cooked pork rinds (chicharones), fried bananas, cookies and other Lao treats.

I'd say the cuisine is a lot closer to Thai (with more spice) than it's coastal neighbor to the east, but it's the influence of that same neighbor that sets the menu apart. I've made this place a regular stop, introducing a few others to the hidden gem of Orange County's Little Saigon.
If you ever get the chance, check out some Lao food. After eating Thai for thirty-years and loving it, I no longer think of it as that great of an option when Lao can be found.


Vanesa Littlecrow W. said...

I seriously miss Laotian food. My friend Sopheak's family used to feed it to me in high school. It's so good.

Gino said...

unfortuantely, there arent that many Lao in the world, and fewer still in the USA to provide us with cool restaurants.

but, if the complexion of MOA is any indication, i thinking MN may have its fair share.

Brian said...

The only Lao place I can find in Seattle proper (there are a couple out in the burbs I think) is actually Thai/Lao. Which I would guess means that they are run by Laotians who make Thai food to broaden their appeal, rather than the other way around.

In any case...I will give it a shot, b/c all of that looks fantastic...

(Traveling around in SE Asia, I got the impression that Vietnam is where you went if you were too hip to go to Thailand, and Laos is where you went if you were too hip for Vietnam.)

tully said...

You're so fortunate to have such delectables in your area! There are some good places out here, but for the most part it's rough going in the Midwest.

Gino said...

tully: but we still dont have any decent steak houses. you in the midwest have us beat on italian delis, too.

brian: in this area, thai has a certain cachet that i dont quite understand: white table cloths, fresh flowers,formal style linen... and they jack up the prices to match. the food is just not up to that level, but folks think it is and pay for it. the simple blue-collar, e-z lunch for $10 restaurant is not to be found..

what i like about this lao place is its lack of unnecesaary niceties. its clean, family run, and all that food i pictured above (plus a pot of jasmine rice not pictured)was only $27... and fed two grown men to last til the next morning.

this same meal would cost close to $50 if it was thai.

Palm boy said...

That was only $27 bucks???

Next time I'm in Cali we'll make a detour for it.

Gino said...

plus tip.