Monday, January 10, 2005

LA, CA - Palm Thai

Los Angeles is the only US city I've been to that has a Thaitown. Located on Hollywood and Hobart, this cluster of restaurants and grocery stores is more of a sneeze of a strip mall than a 'town', but the ambience, authenticity, and flavors are all there. And that's all I could really ask for.

One of the anchoring restaurants is
Palms Thai Restaurant. The long, parallel rows of tables stretching across the rectangular room reminds me of a cafeteria, but it's the most sensible layout to accomodate the maximum number of customers. And they get the customers. At one end of the room is a small stage, where a Thai Elvis impersonator performs some evenings. I have yet to see it, but if it's as entertaining and impressive as the transvestite shows in Thailand, I think it would be worth seeing.

The restaurant is more about food than ambience, but once your food is in front of you, nothing else really matters anyway. The wait staff wears ear bud/microphone headgear that makes them look like they're perpetually talking on unseen cell phones, but I presume that it's an efficient means of notifying them of orders/customer serving status.

Larp (pronouced 'lah(p)') in its authentic form is an extra-spirited (spicy) dish of ground meat (most commonly chicken, but pork or beef can also be used) seasoned with fish sauce, lime sauce, cilantro, green scallions, red onions, roasted rice powder, and a dash of sugar. Its fiery personality is toned down with accompanying raw cabbage wedges (and other vegetables) and generous amounts of rice. Palm Thai's rendition was nicely spicy, with balanced salty and zesty flavors, and crisped granules of rice (lightly crushed grains, rather than a pulverized powder) surprised me with its satisfyingly crunchy texture. It was the best rendition of the dish that I've found in the US.

I happen to love duck, so I couldn't resist the boneless duck with red curry. The dish was a deep bowl filled with duck shreds (skin included), pineapple cubes, tomato wedges, basil leaves, and of course, plenty of rich, mildly sweet coconut-milk curry. Compared to other places, their serving size is quite generous.

Lastly, one of our dining companions expressed a desire for pineapple fried rice, which was an excellent choice. The moist, tumeric yellow rice was saturated with a clean, simple flavor, and beautifully enhanced with tender chunks of chicken, roasted cashews, pineapple cubes, and plump raisins.

Hopefully after you've eaten your way through the menu, you still have room in your second stomach for desserts, because you absolutely have to wander into the next-door jewel of a Thai bakery,

This must-visit spot is stocked with a seasonally-rotated spread of diverse desserts that I'd previously only found in Thailand. Most desserts feature rice and coconut in some form, and have both sweet and salty tones; an acquired taste that can quickly metamorphose into an obsessed craving.

Crispy fried egg thread-covered balls that look like they're glazed with honey/palm sugar

Dessert heaven! Festive pastel-colored steamed cakes and coconut-covered rice flour balls

These come in both a handheld size, and cheesecube miniature size. They feature all flavors and textures: feather-light crispy cookie, sweet marshmallow-like paste, and crunchy/chewy salty-sweet coconut shreds with lemongrass(?) and other seasonings.

Yum. I'm hungry.


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