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Dec 3, 2007 06:02 AM

Land of Smile Thai - St. Louis

Went to a new Thai restaurant on Olive in Olivette: Land of Smile. It's located in the former Tomatillo Mexican restaurant on the north side of Olive near Warson. The owners -- an enthusiastic young chef and his equally enthusiastic and friendly hostess/waitress girlfriend -- obviously take great pride in what they're doing and serve some very tasty, fresh, and beautifully presented food, at a very reasonable price. For example, a dish offered with seafood contained squid, shrimp, and some large, succulent mussels--nary a "crab stick" in sight. All of the food we had made us smile. We'll be back.

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  1. I live right down the street and every day I pass by I think to myself "oh, need to check that out soon..." I looove Thai. Will go this weekend for sure. I can't wait to try it out=)

    1. Is this really Joe from the Midland Wok? If so, I am SO excited; the Midland Wok was the best Thai restaurant in town - by a good margin. We were so sad when it seemed to just disappear.

      8 Replies
      1. re: ptdaniel

        Having only eaten there once, the only thing I can say is that of my two staple Thais dishes, the lahb gai was incredibly strange here. Instead of ground meat it appeared to simply be chicken breast cooked in advance and then chopped up with a knife.

        In the end it was more of a composed salad with chopped chicken on top, and not authentic in any way.

        Everything did seem very fresh though, and none of it was truly bad--just not as authentic as other's I've been too....I'll have to try some more dishes.

        1. re: bobzemuda

          I love eating authentic food, but I hope that's not the only criterion for rating a restaurant. There's an awful lot of very enjoyable food (a really well-made St. Paul Sandwich or, for that matter, American pizza both come to mind) that would be unrecognizable in the country in which the cuisine originated. We still get a lot of pleasure from it. I agree with you that the food was fresh--I just would prefer to say it was tasty rather than "not truly bad."

          1. re: alan

            I wouldn't consider it tasty though; Tasty implies I liked it, and I did not because it wasn't what it should have been.

            When eating in an ethnic restaurant (or any restaurant for that matter) the expectation I (and I think most people) have, is that the dishes with traditional names will be as authentic as possible within the constraints of America.

            The reason I even responded to this post was because of the other post above saying Midland Wok was the best Thai in St. Louis. When I think best, I think authentic, and I was merely commenting that what I saw was not, but also offering the point of reference that I'd only been once, and that I would go back. Maybe it's just this one dish that misses the mark.

            As for your examples, the St. Paul sandwich isn't authentic in any way because it was invented in America. They also don't call it something authentic and try to sell it as such. And American pizza has been distorted en masse to the point that it is now its own creation.

            Lahb gai, however, is something that is authentic, and was not delivered in a similar manner to the dozens of times I've had it before. And as it isn't something like Chinese food that has been so warped and twisted in this country (like pizza) so as to make it a new familiar Americanized version with amazing variation from establishment to establishment, I will squabble over its authenticity, and felt it was worth mentioning.

            I would liken it to having spaghetti and meatballs with fettuccine noodles instead. Sure it's close, and it still might taste good, but it's definitely not spaghetti.

            1. re: bobzemuda

     how about this. What would you recommend getting as a couple of you seem to have been multiple times.

              1. re: bobzemuda

                Fair enough--I think your point is well taken. To some extent I'm at a disadvantage in evaluating this restaurant because I'm not educated as to what constitutes authentic Thai cuisine. I just know if I like it based on whether it tastes good to me. I'd probably be making the same complaint as you if we were speaking about, for example, a bakery serving something that purported to be a bagel but was really a BSO (see my post on this subject from a couple of days ago).

                In any event, in response to your second post, I've only been once so I can't really give you any recommendations. I'll be curious, however, to know whether or not you like any other items on the menu.

              2. re: alan

                II think it's fine is a chef wants to take liberties with a standard preparation if the results are as good or better than the original article. However, this is a pretty tall order-there is a reason why the standards are the standards-so generally it's best not to mess with it, especially since good examples of the thai standards are so difficult to find in stl. Riffing on the standards is something that makes more sense in a thaicentric place like LA where thai is so common and generally so well done, that it makes sense to experiment. This isn't the case in Stl, and I suspect it has absolutely nothing to do why bobz found smile thai's rendition weak. They're either being lazy, or more likely, trying to not offend their perception of the collective stl palate. IMHO, if one has only eaten thai in stl they wouldn't know the difference between servicable and great thai.

              3. re: bobzemuda

                The menu states Larb Gai is q ground chicken or pork salad; if this is not what you got, then you should certainly ask about it. Joe is very friendly and I'm sure he would be happy to discuss why/how he is doing a dish. Just because it is different from what you have had before doesn't, in fact, mean it is not authentic. There is also the possibility, of course, that the chef is intentionally 'interpreting' the dish ('deconstructed' dishes are, in fact, somewhat in vogue now: i.e., dishes where the normal ingredients are presented separately). I certainly have not found authenticity to be an issue with this chef (I've never had the Larb Gai, however).

                What I can recommend are: pataya shrimp, any of the curry dishes (I particularly like the panang, although most would judge a Thai restaurant first on it's masamun curry), The Swimming Angel is also great, as is Phad Gra-Pao. Joe also happens to make the best fried rice in town (imho).

                1. re: ptdaniel

                  I agree masamun is a staple as well, but a bit heavy for a Wednesday lunch -- for me