Back in October of last year, I detailed a particularly enjoyable yet sweaty trip to Jitlada Thai Cuisine, a restaurant that is widely regarded as one of the best Thai eateries in Los Angeles. This is thanks in part to its unique Southern Thai menu whose famously delicious (and notoriously spicy) offerings have been well documented by Chowhound, Yelp, LA Weekly, and just about any enclave of the Internet prone to discussing such things. Needless to say, it’s an experience.
Well, after having checked out my perspiration-filled adventures at Jitlada, Tony at the food blog SinoSoul contacted me about getting together with a bunch of discerning bloggers for a full-on feast at the storied Thai restaurant. It sounded very exclusive, and as one might expect, I thrive on exclusivity. Throw in the opportunity to sample the sundry items of Jitlada’s menu, and I was sold. Little did I realize that I would soon be spending nearly four hours in a chair, stuffing my face with seventeen different courses of food, the majority of which were spicy enough to send my regulatory system into overdrive on at least three or four different occasions.
In other words, it was awesome. Pictures and details after the jump…
I arrived at Jitlada at 7:30 PM, knowing that I would certainly be consuming a wide variety of exotic flavors and ingredients Ã¢â‚¬â€Ã‚Â most of which would be spicy. I’ve discovered in my old age that I’m not particularly adept at handling spice Ã¢â‚¬â€Ã‚Â I tend to resemble Thomas the Train at the mere mention of Sriracha Ã¢â‚¬â€Ã‚Â but I still enjoy it quite a bit, especially in Asian cuisine. Same goes for my friend Sly, and so I invited her to come along and enjoy the experience.
We happily sat down at a long, L-shaped table, which quickly filled up with other bloggers, Yelpers, Twitterers, and general enthusiasts. In total, thirty-three people descended on the small restaurant, thus making for a lively Ã¢â‚¬â€Ã‚Â if cramped Ã¢â‚¬â€Ã‚Â evening of eating. The first portion of the evening was spent getting to know everyone, with everyone asking everyone else about their blogs. Sly announced that she was merely an eater, but on more than one occasion, this resulted in people thinking she hailed from Eater LA, which was most assuredly not the case. Laughter and retracted statements followed, and soon we were all exchanging business cards. Well, actually, it’s more like I received business cards because I had none to offer back. My bad. Sly was somewhat appalled by this, and every thirty minutes or so, she’d place a fork on her plate, turn to me, and say, “Darling, you really must have business cards.” I do not disagree.
Anyway, in my corner of the table, I was surrounded by food bloggers: Wandering Chopsticks, Gastronomy Blog, Oishii Eats, Eat Drink & Be Merry. As you can imagine, there was plenty of food chatter all around Ã¢â‚¬â€Ã‚Â most of which pertained to restaurants I had never heard of in the San Gabriel Valley. I feared that my status as a pseudo-food blogger might render me ill-equipped for such discussion, but everyone was very friendly and answered all my questions, which were usually a variation of the classic “What’s that?” or “Where’s that?” or “Huh?” I consider myself well-versed on the Los Angeles restaurant scene, but these guys really knew their stuff. Imagine my shock then when Tony stood up and announced that it was because of me that this entire dinner had come to be. Yes, all this time I thought I had been merely invited to a pre-existing blogger feast, but apparently, my writing about Jitlada had actually inspired the formation of this event. Consider this ego nicely inflated.
Eventually, the food came out, and that’s when the real fun began. First up was something called the Crispy Morning Glory Salad, which featured fried Chinese watercress, shrimp, and a spicy dressing:
It’s pretty much hard to go wrong with a fried salad, and this was no exception. The Crispy Morning Glory was utterly delicious and a wonderful way to kick off the meal. It remained one of the best dishes of the night.
Same goes for the next item, the Puu Plen Pla, which was raw blue crab salad with fresh lemongrass, mango, mint and chili:
I’d never actually had raw crab before, and I must admit that on paper, it’s not something I’d be necessarily inclined to try. However, it all looked so good. I couldn’t help but give it a whirl. Let me tell you something: it was amazing Ã¢â‚¬â€ totally smooth and sensuous. Sly and I were both stunned at how great it was.
After the two salads, we moved onto “fried stuff,” starting with Kung Phae Chup Krung Thawt Ã¢â‚¬â€Ã‚Â or fried shrimp topped with fried basil:
This dish was very tasty, particularly thanks to the sweet sauce that accompanied it. To be fair, I don’t remember much about it except that I liked it and that deep-fried basil is just as delightful as it sounds.
Next was Black Pepper Drumstick:
This dish was nothing more than Thai-style fried chicken Ã¢â‚¬â€Ã‚Â and that’s a good thing. I wouldn’t say it was the most original or eye-opening offering of the night, but it tasted quite good, especially with the sweet sauce on the side.
We then moved on to the first of two soups: Sup Hang Wua, which was a mild and sour oxtail soup. In classic Thai fashion, it was full of kaffir lime leaves and lemongrass, giving it a wonderful Ã¢â‚¬â€Ã‚Â nearly addictive Ã¢â‚¬â€Ã‚Â flavor. Thankfully, it wasn’t spicy at all, which was fortunate because oh yeah, I forgot to mention that the first two dishes were already full of POW.
Around this time, little baskets of sticky rice began appearing on the table Ã¢â‚¬â€Ã‚Â as did various beverages such as Thai iced teas and coffees. Sly opted for a beer instead, and while most people seemed to share their oversized bottles, Sly kept hers for herself Ã¢â‚¬â€Ã‚Â as one is wont to do when one is a ravenous alcoholic beyond repair.
Sly’s beer towering over a humble basket of sticky rice.
After the soup, we were served a lovely and refreshing papaya salad Ã¢â‚¬â€ which I somehow neglected to photograph. This was a bit of a shock as every dish that arrived at the table was submitted to a veritable gauntlet of cameras perhaps more intense than even the thickest paparazzi swarm on Robertson Boulevard. Surely it would be impossible for me to forget to whip out my camera, what with all the other eager shutterbugs around me. Alas, the papaya salad went undocumented by me, but that is in no way a reflection of its quality. Sweet, cold, and refreshing, the dish was a nice counterpoint to some of the more intense fare we’d already taken in.
The culinary calm, however, was short-lived. We immediately moved back into the realm of the spicy Ã¢â‚¬â€ the violently, devilishly, malevolently spicy. I suppose we should have known this when something called the “jungle curry” descended on our unassuming table. Cooked with pork spare ribs and Thai eggplant, this was not a dish to be taken lightly. However, we did and paid dearly for it.
“Take just a little! Take just a little!” the people around me said. They were all seasoned vets when it came to food and spice, and being that they were all Asian, I implicitly trusted them on this because a) I’m a whiteboy, and b) I reinforce stereotypes like that. However, did I take just a little? No. I spooned quite a bit of the jungle curry onto my plate, and soon I would be paying for it dearly…
Beware the jungle curry…
Look at me, all eager and naive as I prepare to consume some pork from the jungle curry.
Having taken a bite of the jungle curry, I sit and wait for the inevitable wave of heat to overwhelm me. So far so good.
And so it begins.
Yes, it is spicy. Very spicy. Very, very spicy.
However, I’m sure it will pass…
As a minor inferno slowly spread throughout my gastro-intestinal tract, another dish came around: phat Luuk Taw “Meung Khong.” It was stir-fried sator beans with shrimp, pork, and squid. Not too shabby:
Unfortunately for me, I hadn’t quite recovered from the jungle curry, and the phat Luuk was no slouch in the spice department. In fact, if I remember correctly (it all became a haze of sweat and curry), the ground meat in this dish had quite the kick to it. Needless to say, the roller coaster was just beginning. I actually really loved this dish Ã¢â‚¬â€Ã‚Â more so than the jungle curry which was good, but not necessarily a favorite at the table. I’m not sure if people were turned off by its heat or the flavors, but the jungle curry was not one that people were clamoring back for. The phat Luuk, however, was quickly scarfed down by the masses, and I was excited to finally taste sator beans for the first time. Their reputation as being particularly stinky yet tasty seemed about right; although, to be honest, I really didn’t notice any offensive odors. Then again, my body may have had more pressing concerns than balking at olfactory affronts. I was, after all, still in the throes of a jungle curry induced meltdown. Somehow or another, I had managed to inhale some peppery morsel of spiciness, and not only did this send me into spate of coughing, but it seemed to raise my internal temperature tenfold. Did I mention that it was like ninety-five degrees in the restaurant too? It goes without saying that I spent the next five minute self-medicating with a near constant stream of Thai iced tea.
Nope! This food isn’t hot at all!
Okay, I was dying.
Sweat, courtesy of the jungle curry, was abundant on the upper reaches of my forehead… and pretty much everywhere else on my cranium. The nape of my neck was particularly picturesque, but don’t worry Ã¢â‚¬â€Ã‚Â I’ll spare you the sight.
Next up was something I was particularly excited for: basil frog legs! I’d never actually had frog legs before, but I’d been curious to try them for quite some time. This dish was super delicious. I loved the way the frog legs tasted Ã¢â‚¬â€Ã‚Â although, navigating around their small bones was slightly annoying. Still, the meat was tender and flavorful, and the sauce somewhat reminiscent of one of my favorite Vietnamese dishes, Bo Luc Lac (or “Shaking Beef” as it’s sometimes translated to).
Tasty frog legs.
Also circulating the table at this time was a most unexpected palate cleanser: a standard green salad topped with… Pringles?
Yup. Wedged into the salad as a strange garnish were four or five barbecued Pringles, a whimsical touch that I felt was perhaps not intended to be so. The salad itself was fine with a sweet, nutty dressing (think satÃƒÂ©), but alas, I did not try it with the Pringles. I should have. Luckily, this is an experiment that can be easily replicated in a home environment.
Spiciness returned with a wonderful soft-shell crab and mango dish Ã¢â‚¬â€Ã‚Â and honestly, how could you go wrong with two ingredients like that?
This dish was reminiscent of the raw crab offering we had earlier, and being that I’m a soft shell crab fiend, I loved it. The bastard in me was definitely not very excited to have to share it with others… but I did.
And then the grand daddy of spiciness arrived. The Khua Kling salmon.
Khua Kling beef is known to be Jitlada’s spiciest and most deadly offering Ã¢â‚¬â€Ã‚Â something I can attest to having had it twice. This was my first time trying a salmon variant of it, and whereas the beef version is shredded, the fish here seems to be lightly battered and fried before being covered in the notoriously spicy sauce. The difference in texture between the two dishes is remarkable. They both taste great, and they both will destroy you.
I attempted to tell Sly a story about five times, but I could only get five words out before intense heat reduced me to a hacking, teary-eyed mess.
Ah, but I overcame!
No, I didn’t.
I cannot express to you enough the fire that was burning my tongue. I was not alone. While not taking pictures of me in various states of distress, Sly was also practically convulsing in chile-fueled pain. But it was a good pain.
These were the fuckers that did me in.
Next came our second soup, kaeng jeut plaa meuk yat sai Ã¢â‚¬â€Ã‚Â which was supposed to be a mild palate cleanser but still proved to be intensely hot for Sly and me.
The broth was of the salty, savory variety, and amongst the leafy vegetables and mushrooms, one could find peculiar tubes of squid stuffed with pork. I found this unexpected surf-and-turf combo to be a bit strange, and while it wasn’t bad by any means, the soup was not nearly as good as the one we had been served earlier.
A glimpse of the dining room as we all eat and converse and do the Jitlada thang.
Around this time, Sly and I (and some others) soon realized that we had already chowed down on many courses, and yet there was still plenty to come. In other words, we were getting full. That didn’t stop us, however, from partaking in the next dish, Kaeng Tai Kha “Mang Kon,” which was a Southern style curry with jicama and homemade fish balls stuffed with duck eggs.
This dish was actually quite good, and totally mild, which was a welcomed change of pace. The fishballs might seem unappetizing to some Ã¢â‚¬â€ as anything called “fishballs” is wont to be Ã¢â‚¬â€Ã‚Â but they were actually very pleasant. The broth, however, was the real star. Creamy and flavorful, it was like coming in from the storm that was the Khua Kling.
Next up was a unique curry called Kaeng Leung “Thalaa.” It featured catfish and pickled bamboo, and oddly enough, no coconut milk. The resultant broth was thin but pungent, with the pickled bamboo giving a wonderful jolt of tanginess to the proceedings.
Alas, it appeared as though we had reached the end of our experience (we had been given printouts of the menu), but then Tony up and ordered another dish for the group. A green curry / noodle / pork dish. This was truly testing the tensile strength of my torso region.
That being said, I’m so glad Tony ordered this last item because it was absolutely delicious. Some of the people at the table felt it was a bit more standard than the other exotic items we had tried, but I didn’t really care. The flavors were spot-on, and really, that’s all that matters at the end of the day. The thick, slightly sweet curry was a totally decadent and sumptuous way to end the meal, and while I was truly at full capacity, I somehow found space enough to down more noodles than I thought I could handle at that time.
The amount of food we consumed was a bit astonishing.
For whatever reason, our corner of the table became the repository of dishes and bowls that people no longer wanted. It was unwieldy.
And so our meal drew to a close…
OR DID IT?
Guess what? Dessert was on the way, and it was unlike anything I’d seen before:
Bright neon pink, this dessert was sort of like the drag queen of the night: garish, loud, and somewhat unsettling. The hostess and restaurant owner Jazz explained that this dish contained red beans, chickpeas, bread, shaved ice, and two types of jello. Or was it jelly? Whatever it was, this dessert reminded me of some of the more ill-advised concoctions of my youth (like the time I tried to flavor orange juice with Nesquik). I actually wasn’t sure if I was even going to try this dessert. I have a major aversion to all berries and many fruits, and this dish looked to be in violation of my core tastebud values (I will gag if I taste even a hint of berry). However, Sly assured me it wasn’t berry flavored Ã¢â‚¬â€Ã‚Â just generally sweet; so, I decided to try this craziness anyway. After all, how could I turn away the bragging rights of saying I’d tried everything Ã¢â‚¬â€Ã‚Â all seventeen courses?
Here I am, about to go over the precipice.
This pretty much went against every instinct I had about desserts; namely Ã¢â‚¬â€Ã‚Â stay way from anything red.
But lo and behold, I tried the dessert and… it didn’t taste like berries. Instead, it tasted like Penicillin, and oddly enough, I actually enjoy Penicillin. Still, this dessert was a bit much for me Ã¢â‚¬â€Ã‚Â soothing Penicillin flavors be damned Ã¢â‚¬â€Ã‚Â and so I only had a few spoonfuls before retiring it. Other comments from around the table were that it was reminiscent of bubble gum or just medicine in general. Not a huge hit.
Finally, we were truly done for the evening.
Thanks to Tony for putting the whole thing together and Jitlada for accommodating all of us. Sly and I had a great time, and the food was absolutely delicious. I feel like I’m using the same words over and over again (delicious, tasty, flavorful, great), but really there’s no other way to describe it. Actually, I can add one more adjective to that list: value. After all that, the tab came to $31 per person (about $5 more for the beer drinkers… SLY). Now that’s a lot of bang for the buck.