Thanks to an invite from Mattatouille, I was able to check out the L.A. (possibly U.S.) gold standard of Thai food in late March, Jitlada, for free! After doing a little homework and reading up on them, I knew I was in for a foodventurous treat -- provided my tastebuds don't get seared to a crisp.
Not-so-usual was the menu, particularly the last pages with there were over a hundred items listed under the "Southern Thai Specialty" category (apparently, this was a step up from years past -- when this part of the menu was just written in Thai, and had way fewer dishes -- and only natives or the curious would get to taste.)
Now should folks be so inclined, there is the "regular" menu with more familiar and ubiquitous (insert color) curry, pad thais and pad see ews, but truly appreciate what this place has to offer, you gotta talk the owner, Jazz, and just trust the dishes she suggest. On our excursion, that's certainly what we did and our meal was nothing short of spectacular.
Practically every course Jazz dished out was a delight, with a vibrant explosion of assorted aromas, flavors and textures that's wonderfully layered upon one another. It's hard to pick out one favorite dish because many of them are uniquely tasty, but here's some of the highlights for me:
- Fried-morning glory and shrimp salad: It took me a while to figure out whether "morning glory" was a descriptor or actual ingredient in the dish (turns out it's the latter.) Nonetheless, this simple starter was bright, fresh and beautifully balanced, combining crunchy greens, plump shrimp and lightly-fried morning glory with a dressing that's a little spicy, a little sour, a little sweet and plenty intriguing and addictive.
- New Zealand mussels in Thai-style broth: despite how I feel about foods shipped from far away, these mussels were totally worth the carbon footprint. Tender-yet-meaty minus any of that off-flavor I get with substandard mussels, it was wonderfully enhanced by the light broth, with a subtle bouquet of ginger, basil, lemongrass binded the warmth of chilies.
- Deep-fried soft-shelled crab with sweet mango salad - who knew it would be so good to be burned. This deceptive little number starts out sweet, fruity and crunchy -- but rapidly gave way to a wave of spiciness that left me going OMGWTFMYMOUTHISONFIRE!!! (kudos to Food, She Thought - who was there on a separate visit - for inspiring this very accurate, if non-journalistic, description) A good ten minutes, two cups of iced water and nearly a full glass of Thai iced tea later (i.e. an eternity in hell) the heat finally dissipated. Not sure if it was the rush of endorphins following the capsaicin attack, but I was left pleasantly numb, and almost wouldn't mind if this was the only dish served in hell. Almost.
- "Pork Jerky," slightly chewy, fairly savory and plenty caramelized. While the flavor profile it didn't ring particularly Thai to me (especially after the other dishes that wildly darted all over my palate) it was a very comforting bite ~ reminiscent of the Chinese/Taiwanese-style fried pork chops, only more finger friendly.
Overall, it was certainly a lovely adventure discovering new dishes, expanding my palate and, of course, enjoying great company (other dinner companions included Choisauce, Food Marathon, and Scoops' owner Tai Kim) in a casual, relaxed setting. It may not have the uppity-fine-dining panache that's typical of other LATimes reviewed places (which only gave this place a paltry two stars recently) but it's definitely a must-try-if-you-are-in-LA in my book.
More photos of other courses here, and of course, here's what a few others have to say about their Jitlada trip:
- Of course, Mattatouille's glowing post and full rundown of every dish
- Sinosoul is utterly addicted to the scoville smackdown here
- EatingLA braved this place on a packed weekend, but still mostly enjoyed the dinner
- FoodGPS havs some great notes on this place's history and rise to stardom
5233 1/2 W Sunset Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90027
*P.S. Reservations highly recommended, heard it's packed even on weekdays!