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Lotus of Siam - Incredibly Negative Experience (long)

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We went on Monday (President's Day) with great anticipation. Unfortunately, that was our first, and will be our LAST visit to this place. I know I am swimming against the tide - so let me explain.

I had planned 2 dinners at this place to check out their extensive menu. We love Thai food, and have visited Renu Nakorn here in LA. We have Thai food at least twice a month, and in Pasadena, California, we love our local Thai restaurants - Saladang, President's Thai. I also love the Thai restaurants in Thai Town LA - specially Ruen Pair and the special menu at Jitlada. So we had gone with great expectations.

Sunday dinner became impossible because our lunch at Mesa Grill was still sitting heavily on our stomachs. So we ended up with a light snack before Cirque's "O" 10:30 seating.

Monday being Monday, we took a cab to Lotus of Siam for lunch - arriving around 12:15pm. The place is somewhat out of the normal place, but we were pleasantly surprised to see it almost full - perhaps the President's Day had brought out extra folks on a Monday. We did not have reservations, so we were lucky to be seated at a table for 2 in the front area. They had a slightly cynical smile when we said "no reservations". We were seated without a menu, and we thought the menu would come soon. In the meantime, we went over and looked at the buffet in the middle - but except for the chicken wings, which some here have praised, there was nothing distinctive. That should have been my first clue - if this is indeed the best Thai restaurant in the country (as per Jonathan Gold), then why was their buffet so undistinguished? Could they not put one special item in there? I would have expected at least 2-3 unusual items - but I guess the tired looking Pad Thai, the 2 soups, and the other pedestrian fare was what you got for $8.99.

By this time we had to flag down a waiter and ask for a menu. He seemed surprised, and we also got the feeling we were getting a slight cold shoulder. I have noticed some inherent negative bias from Thai people against Indians, specially in Thailand. But to see it here was a bit creepy.

We had the recommendations from chowhound and after some deliberation, chose the following 3 dishes. They were all HUGE mistakes. So -10 points to me for choosing poorly.

1. #66 ISSAN SAUSAGE - Grilled sour pork sausage, served with fresh chili, ginger and peanut.
FUNKY is NOT sufficiently expressive to describe this sausage. When we tried it, the image that welled up from the bottom of our guts was Andrew Zimmern's BIZARRE FOODS show on Travel Channel.I wish I had remembered this BEFORE we placed the order. In this episode Zimmern was in a small town in Thailand where he tried their sour pork and rice sausage - and basically had to give up before he could finish 1 sausage. We had to leave this dish almost 80% uneaten. I tried to mask the flavor with prik nam pla, the spicy Thai chillies in fish sauce condiment (there were no condiment trays brought to our table and I had to ask one of the constantly rushing waiters to get even the prik nam pla) - but it was beyond me. I am very adventurous eater and my wife was surprised that even I could not finish my second bite. We had asked the waiter who took our order about each dish - and he only asked if we ate pork. When we replied yes, he took the order w/o saying anything more. The waiter who cleared our table afterwards asked us how the meal was - seeing more than half the dishes uneaten - and when we expressed dissatisfaction, he mentioned that this particular dish was even difficult for many Thais to stomach. Should the original waiter not have given us a hint of warning? STRIKE ONE

2. #55 NUA NAM TOK Sliced charbroiled beef mixed with green onion, chili, lime juice & rice powder.
This was the one dish that we could eat. While it was tasty, we found it to be nothing special. The beef was ordinary, the sauce was no more flavorful or unique than my locally favorite Thai restaurant in Pasadena (called Pad Thai), and lacked any hint of the chef's magic touch.

3. #115 SEAFOOD NOODLE SOUP Assorted seafood in a clear broth soup with small flat white noodle.
This was the other MAJOR mistake - all blame to me. We love the fried flat noodles in Thai cooking, and somehow we thought that the other two dishes were dry dishes, so we needed one dish which had some gravy/soup. In my mind, I had imagined something akin to the Malaysian curry laksa - a rich coconut milk soup based with one of the spicy Thai curries, with seafood and noodles. But clearly I had made a mistake with the numbering and ended up ordering the most boring pedestrian dish of all. A big bowl of tired rice noodles, lots of sprouts, 4 tired prawns, a little squid, a little surimi (not even real crab meat) and 2 mussels. The broth had NO flavor - and I was thinking of the pho in the local Vietnamese restaurants, or even the free soups at the local Sichuan restaurants have so much more flavor. The final insult was they had not even removed the "beard" from the mussels - they had not cleaned it properly. No amount of prik nam pla and soya sauce could mask the disappointment of this simplest of simple dishes. STRIKE TWO.

The service was extremely poor. No refilling of water, no asking if things were OK, basically plonked down the food and left to swim or sink on our own. There was a large table behind us - just inside the main room. It must have had some important people from the area - perhaps local politicos. They were being wined and dined by all the waitstaff. I think it was the woman chef Saipin Chutima's husband who hung out with them opening bottles of wine and other potables. Chef Chutima also came out, smiled, but went back to the kitchen relatively quickly.

We were there the first time, so we did not have any expectations of being treated like long time customers who might also be important in local politics. But we also did not expect to be treated as negligently as we were. STRIKE THREE.

I know it is unfair to criticize a restaurant on one visit. I thought very hard before writing this review. But it was a perfect storm of several criteria that rises in my mind to say that I will never again visit this restaurant. The poor service, poor choice of items (my fault, but the waiter could have warned us at least with one item), the poor selections in the buffet table, the absolute disappointment in the soup dish - completely devoid of taste, the differential treatment to different tables, the slightly out of way location.

Las Vegas has many good dining options, but from now on, in my book, this restaurant is off the list.

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  1. If you had read chowhound carefully, you would have known before you got there that the lunch buffet is nothing special...and you would have asked for menus right away. A lot of people do go at lunch for the buffet, so the staff might expect that. Can't comment about the poor service to Indians thing: except that my husband is Indian and he's never experienced a problem there...

    I'm sorry you were unhappy with the service. Someone is going to point this out, so it might as well be me: um.....not sure how to tell you this, but the group you mentioned that "must have been local politicos" was probably a group of chowhounds that were eating there at the same time. (We were there at that time on that Monday, and your description of the table location matches where we were sitting. Not to mention that yes, we did have conversations with the chef's husband and sample some wines). Several whose handles you'd recognize from these boards, including possibly yours truly. None of us are local politicos. In fact, only three of the group even live in Las Vegas, and one of the three (myself) has only lived there for a month and certainly hasn't had time to become a well known girl about town....

    I wonder if the staff seemed surprised when you asked for a menu because they assumed that since you went to check out the buffet you had interest in it.

    Anyway, give the place another shot. I also had a lovely dinner there with two chowhounds on Tuesday night...and I'm going again on Saturday when my sister is in town. And I don't regret the multiple visits at all...If regulars are treated better at LOS then I'll gladly be a regular.....but I would continue to go for the food even if I was treated like a tourist....

    1 Reply
    1. re: janetofreno

      OK - I stand corrected. It seems from your description that it was your table that got all the attention. I am glad you did, without being politicians. I guessed politicians because my wife overheard some local politics being discussed. I will alter my opinion.

      However, I wonder if your table got superior service because you were a larger group or some of you had been to the restaurant before. In the front where we were seated, there were 5 or 6 tables for 2 - one was a table for 4. The overall service was very poor in this area. It seems either they are short staffed, or because of lavish attention to your group, there was less bandwidth for others.

      We went to the buffet table much later - when nothing had appeared for quite a while. I had read chowhound and come to the conclusion that the buffet table was not worth it - except perhaps for the spicy chicken wings. I doubt they took that delayed trip to indicate we were interested in the buffet. Seconds before we sat down, 4 Asian women were shown to the table for 4 with menus. I don't know if they asked for it when they walked in. I think based on years of dining experience, the waitperson who sat us down could have asked us whether we wanted the buffet or the regular menu.

      I am glad you and countless others like it. No argument with that. And since neither us or friends that we influence will be visiting this place, there will be more room for their fans to enjoy their experience at LoS.

    2. We had lunch there last Wed. (2/13) and our experience couldn't have been more different. Agree with you and janetofreno that the buffet looked like nothing special. Actually, I barely glanced at it but my wife checked it out on her way to the restroom and confirmed the general consensus of comments here that it wasn't all that. We arrived with most of our order already planned out, based on a recent LoS thread: crispy rice w/ sour sausage, stuffed chicken wings, chinese broccoli w/ fried pork belly. We also chose a noodle dish from the menu: rad na, w/ chicken. Everything was amazingly good. And the service was excellent. Altho we weren't wearing any out-of-state clothing, I think we were pretty obviously tourists (taking pictures of the food, etc) and the staff couldn't have been nicer. We had several nice chats about the food, particularly the rad na, which seemed to evoke comfort food memories in the waitstaff.
      All that being said, I think if I had the kind of experience you describe, I'd be reluctant to give the place a second chance, no matter what other people said.

      1. In all fairness, I think you should consider honestly how you would have reacted had the waiter tried to warn you off of the sausage: would you have listened to him, or would you have thought you were getting the cold shoulder for being non-Thai? Personally, I don't think it is a fair strike against a restaurant that they didn't discourage you from ordering something just a bit unusual, but that has come recommended on the boards....part of being an adventurous eater is taking a risk now and then that you won't like all of the new tastes you are willing to try, IMO.

        In making your decision whether to come again, I think you should eliminate the admittedly poor choices you made (it simply isn't the restaurant's fault, and I think you are projecting your own disappointment onto them); the buffet (if you aren't going to order it, what the heck do you care what is on it?); and the table location (but that is just me, I enjoy the privacy of out of the way tables and certainly don't take it as a personal insult when I walk into a popular, crowded restaurant on a holiday without any reservation and am offered one.).

        Disappointing? Sure. A Perfect Storm of a horrible experience? I can't agree.

        2 Replies
        1. re: susancinsf

          Yes - in all fairness, had the waiter mentioned that this dish is not readily agreeable with many people, including Thais, we would have paused and probably chosen some of the other recommended dishes. My wife is less of an experimental eater than me, and that would have caused us to rethink the order. It might have also evoked my memory of Andrew Zimmern's show and caused even me to stop. After all, I was not there to taste "bizarre food", but to get a good meal.

          Yes, I projected some of my disappointment of poor choices on them. But given the totality of experience, I have struck this place from the list for future visits. Now had Las Vegas had not many choices, I would have tried it a second time. As far as great Thai food, we get a large variety in LA, so by giving this place a miss, it is not that much of a loss.

          I have no arguments with those that enjoy LoS.

          1. re: suvro

            We have been to LOS many times for lunch and dinner and last lunch we had there was disappointing. We live in OC and usually drive straight to LOS for lunch. We usually order the same thing for lunch (spicy shrimp salad, charbroiled beef with tamarind sauce) . The shrimp was overcooked, the sauce was way too hot and the beef was mostly fat. The service was terrible, we never got our drinks!! With all the good restaurants in Vegas I don't think we gamble a meal there next time.

        2. Oh gosh, I'm so sorry you had a bad experience. If you're anything like me, you chose the restaurants on your visit carefully. It stinks when you think you've wasted a meal on a bad experience instead of a good one.

          I've never been to LOS at lunch or on a holiday, so I can't speak to the service issues (but I have read this board carefully enough to know that the lunch buffet is to be avoided at all costs...) It is a small, family owned business and it wouldn't surprise me if they just got a bit overwhelmed. I've always had good, though not fawning, service there.

          I posted about my very recent dinner at LOS here. http://www.chowhound.com/topics/48987... And I think I tried two of the dishes you tried (is the #66 on the lunch menu the same as the appetizer nam kao tod minced sour sausage mixed with green onion, fresh chili, ginger, peanuts, crispy rice and lime juice on the dinner menu?) I thought the nam kao tod was truly fantastic. Maybe one of the top ten dishes I've eaten ever; the flavors were wonderful, the texture was appealing...I loved everything about it, while it was hot. When it got cool, however, I thought some of the flavors, which were perfectly balanced when warm, overpowered. Eat while warm! I wonder if it was cold by the time you got it?

          I also ordered the nua nam tok--sliced charbroiled beef mixed with green onion, chili, lime juice & rice powder and thought it was perfectly lovely; however, I also didn't think it was that extraordinary in the sense that, except for the wonderful sauce, it wasn't that different than charbroiled beef dishes I can get at other great restaurants, including the ones back home. If I lived in LV and ate there all the time, I would order it for variety's sake, but on my rare visit to Las Vegas I'd rather order something extraordinary, like the whole fried catfish, the Northern pork stew, or the (not to rub it in) nam kao tod minced sour sausage with crispy rice, that I can't find on any menu and as well executed back home.

          Everyone is entitled to his likes and dislikes and to his own experiences. We don't all have to like the same places. I'm sorry your experience was not enjoyable. I wouldn't even suggest you go back and try again unless you thought you could completely erase your mind of your first experience and approach it with a completely open mind (personally, I find this hard to do). There are lots of wonderful restaurants out there--life's too short. And, yes, as you say, more room for those of us who want to eat there.

          One other small point. Andrew Zimmern also spit out durian--he couldn't choke it down. And, he like everyone else, including you, including me, is entitled to his likes, dislikes, and so on. But I love durian and it's clear to me that my tastes are different than his. I just wish he weren't from the Twin Cities as I wouldn't want anyone to have the erroneous impression that everyone from the Twin Cities thinks non-American food is "bizarre."

          ~TDQ

          2 Replies
          1. re: The Dairy Queen

            "is the #66 on the lunch menu the same as the appetizer nam kao tod minced sour sausage mixed with green onion, fresh chili, ginger, peanuts, crispy rice and lime juice on the dinner menu?"

            I don't think so. There was no crispy rice, no green onion, and no lime juice. It came with shreds of ginger, peanuts, and some shredded cabbage - no sauce.

            But staying with the durian talk, if I were a waitperson in a restaurant, and someone not familiar with durian came in and ordered it, I would at least try to raise some warning bells. In contrast, if it was mangosteen or rambutans they were ordering, that would not have been necessary. As I said in my original post, the waiter who cleared away the dishes said so, but not the waiter who took our order.

            1. re: suvro

              Thanks for clearing up my confusion re the #66 vs. the nam kao tod. I wish you'd tried that--it's really delicious. Again, sorry your experience wasn't as fun as mine have been. (Good analogy on the durian, btw.)

              ~TDQ

          2. I am sorry for your negative experience. I can truly say that the way your order is very important. Hubby and I went the first time and being new to Chowhound, ordered poorly. We left thinking it was nothing special. However, we realized our error and gave them another chance and it was a truly special meal. We still talk about it!

            I wonder if you had such high expectations that it became impossible to fulfill them. We've been a few times and never had bad service, but it is not the type of service you might expect at some other places in Vegas.

            1 Reply
            1. re: glazebrookgirl

              Here are the highlighted reviews from their webpage:
              "The single best Thai restaurant in North America" - Jonathan Gold, Gourmet Magazine

              "Lotus of Siam is the best Thai restaurant I have tried in this country" - Heidi Knapp Rinella, Las Vegas Review Journal

              Really? How many Thai restaurants across north America has Jonathan Gold tried? Or USA for Heidi Knapp?

              I was open to the possibility that my expectations were too high. But as a foodie in Los Angeles which truly offers a wide variety of Thai cooking (current threads on Jitlada in Thai Town and Renu Nakorn and Thai Nakorn, as well as my local Saladang in Pasadena), I had expected to hit one or two high notes - something special even if I ordered 2/3 dishes poorly. But the third dish was fine, but NOT special. That quality of sauce and meat are available in many Thai restaurants in Pasadena.

            2. I have eaten at LOS several times and found it to be disappointing versus all the raves you see on this site. I keep thinking that it must have been an off day or that I am missing something. I have tried various dishes hoping one will resonate but no luck yet. I have now stopped trying.

              The last time I ordered strictly off the Northern menu because that is their strength and came up with the same level of experience as previous visits: just so-so. The only dish that came close to being a hit with me was their whole fried catfish which I don't find worthy of going out of the way for.

              You are not alone with your opinion.

              3 Replies
              1. re: masstech

                I was just thinking that I should have spent more time on their website and perhaps downloaded their Northern menu. At lunch, they did not offer the northern menu (or perhaps I overlooked it) but I see it as such on their website. So it looks like your experience ordering from the Northern menu was also disappointing.

                1. re: suvro

                  This is why I love this Site. Dissenting opinions! There is no excuse for poor treatment. I am a Solo Traveler and foodie who uses a wheelchair. I sometimes encounter poor treatment or prejudice in my travels, so I can relate to your concerns regarding that. But at LOS I have had several wonderful dining experiences and have always been treated well! By the way, I love the Issan Sausage! ;)

                2. re: masstech

                  I had three stellar meals there this week where I would order about 80 percent of the dishes we had again in a heartbeat. I think it's one of those restaurants where you really have to schmooze the staff. They get a lot of people who come in who aren't chowhounds, who want the buffet and the pad thai and don't want anything to weird or spicy, and many things are on the menu just for them. Ask for the specials (you might not even know they have specials, because I don't remember seeing them listed anywhere), and ask for a wine list, and you'll be a lot more satisfied with both the food and the service. I agree that in a perfect world, it shouldn't be that way, but given that the "buffet and pad thai people" are probably paying the rent, they probably want to keep them in their comfort zone and don't push the "real" stuff unless you show some interest.

                3. I had a delightful experience at LoS on 2/14 (typically a hellish day to go out to eat, IMHO). I found that as soon as I asked for the northern menu (many of the posts here warned me that I'd have to ask for it), the waiter's eyes lit up, he grinned, and got delightfully chummy and perfectly pushy. "No, that's boring--you want this." ;-) We ordered entirely based on his recommendations and had a magnificent meal. I've had some fabulous Thai meals in LA and the DC area, but this topped them all. So sorry to hear that your experience wasn't up to par. Our tastes are all different, and there are always bound to be some quirks in service and product. Sounds like you had an unfortunate combination of all three.

                  1. Wow, that's too bad. It's even worse to have such high hopes, and be so disappointed, though your initial impression was that you thought you were greeted with a 'slightly cynical smile', and that may have influenced the rest of your meal?

                    I just looked at my very first post on LOS (7 years ago!) which is actually in response to someone who was also disappointed on their first visit. We loved the place (it's in my bio as top 5 meals), and as linked below - we went on a weekday, had no reservations, and weren't seated with a menu. We said we weren't there for the buffet, but were there for the authentic Northern menu (all suggestions I garnered from this board before we went). I totally understand that it's hard with all the other great restaurants in LV to give a place that was so disappointing another try, but IMO it's worth it. I really love LOS and think it's outstanding.

                    http://www.chowhound.com/topics/93675...

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: Rubee

                      The waiters were so rushed that we saw them at greater than 5 minute intervals. Being in the front room perhaps was more of a factor - they were mainly in the larger back room. We tried to catch their attention for a long time and got the menu at the very first opportunity. That added to the increasing level of discomfort.

                      As I said in my original post, I am swimming against the tide. Many chowhounders love this place based on their wonderful dining experiences - and that is the way it should be. Some of the places I love in Los Angeles - others may have had bad dining experiences.

                      My issue is that even the soup noodle dish we had was extremely poor quality. The seafood was tired - shrimp, 2 mussels that had not been cleaned properly, surimi - imitation crab meat instead of real, and small bits of squid. The broth had zero flavor. The seasonings were just not there - not in the food and not on the table. And if this is indeed the "best Thai restaurant in North America", my expectations would be that even for the pad thai and buffet people, there would be some dishes that would show the chef's pride. If everything is hidden and you have to be knowledgeable to ask for it, schmooze the waiters to get the best - then it is perhaps deservedly a place for keen and knowledgeable chowhounders, but only that. For the others - it is a hit or miss.

                      At the risk of sounding off topic - my first visit to Jitlada in Los Angeles that is also serving a new northern Thai menu under a new owner Jazz, was 180 degrees opposite in experience.

                      1. re: suvro

                        I completely agree with you that at a great restaurant the chef's pride in her work should show in every dish. That's why I'm really surprised by your characterization of your food at LoS -- I've talked to the people there enough to know that they take tremendous pride and care in the food they serve. Really, I find your experience inexplicable.

                        1. re: Ruth Lafler

                          Ruth, We were surprised also! When we got to Vegas, we had planned on having 2 consecutive dinners on Sunday and Monday. Unfortunately, our Sunday lunch at Bobby Flay's MESA Grill was still sitting heavy in our stomachs, so we passed on that plan and went for Monday lunch. So going in, since we were only 2 diners, we had planned 2 visits to check out their range of offerings.

                          You say: "They get a lot of people who come in who aren't chowhounds, who want the buffet and the pad thai and don't want anything to weird or spicy, and many things are on the menu just for them."

                          This was contrary to my experience of that one visit. In the front section, where I think there 6 tables, there was only 1 lone diner who chose to go to the buffet. Our table, a table of 4 Asian female diners, the table behind us of 2 Caucasian male diners, the table next to them of a Caucasian couple - and one other - chose menu items, NOT the buffet. During the hour or more we were there, we saw very few people even in the main dining room go to the buffet. When we took a look at the buffet, it was practically untouched.

                          LoS is not in a heavy foot traffic area. It is quite a bit off the strip and not even in a heavily populated area. Most of the diners seem to have found it not by chance, but by design. So I find it surprising that they get a lot of "buffet and pad thai" types.

                          1. re: suvro

                            Well, we've been for lunch a few times on weekdays and it seems most tables are chowing down on the buffet, although some (like us) order from the menu. Maybe your experience was unusual because it was a holiday. The buffet folks generally appear to be locals taking their lunch breaks. Sorry you had a bad experience. We live in Sherman Oaks, less than 10 minutes from several excellent Thai restaurants in North Hollywood, but I can rarely persuade my husband to have Thai food, whereas he is happy to eat at LOS any old time I suggest (and he has even suggested it, wonder of wonders).

                            1. re: Debbie W

                              De gustibus non est disputandum - to each his own!

                              Good Thai restaurants in North Hollywood and Thai town are a lot easier for us to drive to. We don't intend to go to Las Vegas to gamble on this place next time - there are many good food options.