Situated in an unassuming Hollywood strip mall, Jitlada is perhaps the only Thai restaurant in America with a reputation that precedes it. With three [1,2,3] glowing write ups in Gourmet, two-stars from the Los Angeles Times, and Jonathan Gold’s coveted seal of approval, it’s really no surprise that the kitchen is humming, business is booming, and diners are smiling.
Jitlada first registered on the world’s culinary radar two years ago when blogger Erik M. penned a love letter on a Chicago-based message board. Since then, Jitlada’s uncompromising devotion to recreating the recipes of Southern Thailand has successfully set it apart from the countless Thai restaurants in town dishing out the usual pad Thai and tom yum. The food of Southern Thailand is really something to behold. “The palette of flavors runs to sour and spicy, with a busy sideline in the funky and fermented,” writes Gourmet’s Robert Pincus.
Photo by SinoSoul
My friend Tony C. is as passionate about sharing good food as he is about eating it. After dining at Jitlada on numerous occasions, Tony C. decided to coordinate a feast of epic proportions—a be-all, end-all meal to top all other Jitlada experiences past, present, and future.
Balls. To. The. Wall.
The Astronomer and I, along with thirty-one of Los Angeles’ most enthusiastic eaters, joined Tony C. in his masochistic endeavor. [A full list of blog-writing attendees after the jump.]
Working closely with Erik M. and Jitlada’s hostess with the mostess, Jazz Singsanong, Tony C. orchestrated a fifteen-course dinner that seared our tongues and pushed our stomachs to the limit. From the pleasantly mild to the downright painful, all of the dishes we sampled this evening were bold and fantastic.
The cuisine of Southern Thailand is well known for its maddeningly spicy dishes. The Astronomer chose a Singha beer to quell the burning, while I went with a Thai iced tea. Sometime around course number nine, I ordered a second iced tea because Jitlada’s burning tends to stubbornly linger.
Here’s a rundown of the evening’s wicked delights:
Crispy Morning Glory Salad—battered and fried morning glory topped with fresh shrimp and a spicy dressing (#91 on the menu). This dish’s flavors were fresh and clean with just a bit of kick. “Jitlada is totally doable,” I thought as I munched on the crisp green shards. Little did I know that the next course, and pretty much every one after that, would kick me swiftly in the ass.
Puu Plen Pla—raw blue crab salad with fresh lemongrass, mangoes, mint, and chili (#40). The tender crab ruled, but the mango slaw was too, too hot.
Black pepper fried chicken—turmeric marinated drumsticks with green mango salad (#114).
Kung Phae Chup Krung Thawt (Koong Pear)—fried shrimp marinated with spicy Southern curry sauce and topped with fried basil (#48).
Sup Hang Wua—this mild and sour oxtail soup was reminiscent of Vietnam’s sour soup, canh chua.
Phangga jungle curry—pork spare ribs with Thai eggplant in jungle curry (#84). Oh Lord, this one was extremely spicy. One bite, and I was sidelined for the rest of the season.
Crudités—cabbage, carrots, and cucumbers on ice. These fresh vegetables temporarily relieved the jungle curry’s overwhelming burn and prepared our tongues for more good eating.
Phat Luuk Taw “Meung Khong”—Nakhon Sri Tammart-style stir-fry with sator beans, shrimp, ground pork, and squid (#19).
Basil frog legs—stir-fried frog legs with garlic, chili, and basil (#88).
Soft shell crabs with mangoes—deep fried soft shell crabs with spicy ripe mango salad (#106).
Iceberg lettuce with peanut dressing, cucumbers, shredded red cabbage, and Pringle potato chip accents. This one came courtesy of Jazz.
Khua kling salmon—spicy and pungent Southern-style dry curry with green beans and turmeric (#18).
Kaeng Jeut plaa meuk yat sai—clear and mild broth with minced chicken-stuffed squid (#13).
Kaeng tai khai “Mang Kon”—Southern style curry with jicama and house-made fish balls stuffed with duck eggs (#70). Totally bizarro, and my favorite course of the evening.
Kaeng leung “Thalaa”—Jitlada’s signature curry with catfish and fermented bamboo (#5).
Narathiwat green curry—steamed rice noodles topped with coconut milk green curry and chicken (#85). Noodles and curry always make a strong team. The heat on this one was just right for baby bear.
Lastly, “Thai Syrup”—shaved ice, garbanzo beans, bread, grass jelly, and jackfruit all floating in a fruity fluorescent pink syrup. Although this dessert didn’t appeal to most of us, it’s Jazz’s favorite sweet from childhood.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, dining with Tony C. is pure madness.
5233 W. Sunset Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90027