Jitlada--1st post-Gourmet magazine visit (kinda long)
Well, we just got home from our third visit to Jitlada in about six weeks, and our first since they were mentioned in Gourmet magazine. When we got there at 6:00 for our reservation, the first dining room was empty, but the second one (where we were seated against the "bar", under the Michelob lampshade) was about half full. The previous times we'd been there, there had been--at most--three other tables filled in the same room at any given time (each visit has been on a Saturday night). By the time we left tonight, about 7:15, our dining room was filled except for one table, and the first dining room was full. Happy to say, though, neither the service nor the food has been effected by the apparent increase in volume.
Decisions, decisions...we have yet to repeat any dishes, as the menu is so expansive. My husband and I both tend to want to work our way through a menu to try to sample as many dishes as possible on repeat visits before we start ordering our favorites again--but it almost makes me sad that we probably won't order a few dishes we loved for a while until we try more things... Funny, also, that although so many soups look and sound amazing, we have yet to try any, since neither of us has been in the mood for soup in the summer (oh well, good excuse to go several more times when the weather gets cooler!). As for the food...
We started with néua tàet dìaw / néua sũwan, the dried/fried beef jerky. The meat was tender, tasty, and served with a wonderful bright orange spicy sauce that tasted of chiles and lime and a few other things that made my tongue tingle and my tastebuds spring to attention. Having only had this dish before at Tuk Tuk (where, IIRC, it had a sweet, carmelized outside and was quite chewy, with no dipping sauce), this was a welcome beginning. Next came kaeng tay poh plaa châwn hâeng, the curry with dried mudfish and water spinach. I know that some people have commented that mudfish can be a bit of an acquired tasted, but DH and I both loved this curry. The mudfish was chewy, the water spinach was crunchy, and the curry made my nose run (that's a good thing in my book). I can handle a moderate amount of spice, and DH likes it at least twice that, but we compromised a bit and ordered "medium" spice. I probably could have withstood a bit more heat, but it was great as it was. While we were enjoying that, out came deep fried chicken pieces with garlic (I'm not finding the Thai name for it anywhere at the moment), with more of the spicy orange sauce. This was probably the only dish I was disappointed with--though the flavor was great (can't go too wrong with chicken sitting among little nuggets of deep-fried garlic), the chicken was served bone-in (imagine eating Chicken McNuggets with tiny bones), which made it difficult to be too polite while eating, and was a bit dry. It was nice to try it, though. Last, but not least, we got a mango salad with fried shredded catfish (I think it was yam plaa dùk fuu, but I'm not 100% sure...). When it was placed on our table, DH and I looked at each other with bemusement--the mango salad wasn't visible, as it was entirely covered by a frizzy, crispy tangle of fried catfish. Think funnel cake meets onion loaf, but made of catfish. And tasty! The mango salad itself was wonderful; tangy, crunchy with the mango, sliced red onions and peanuts, but the catfish took it to another level. Each bite dissolved in our mouths with a faint crunch, like a piece of catfish cotton candy (sorry for the clashing taste image, but I can't think of any other way to describe the texture!). I instantly added it to my mental favorites list to try again in the future. For dessert, sticky rice and mango, of course. This was wonderful as usual (the only dish we've repeated), with the only downside being that it was served to us with two mini forks (mine looked like a seafood fork), almost like they'd run out of clean silverware. Who knows, maybe they heard me comment that I'd eaten too much already and were trying to help me out!
Our only hiccup was when DH tried to order a "red syrup with milk" (which he's ordered as a "red drink" at Lotus of Siam), and the first waiter didn't quite understand (or hear) what he said, so he brought a red syrup mixed with water (which my husband drank anyway). When he tried to order a second one with a different waitress, she didn't understand, either, and brought a repeat of the first one. When Jazz came by and checked on us, DH explained nicely that he'd wanted it with milk, and she quickly and politely whisked it away, after which we heard a raised voice speaking in Thai from the kitchen. A moment later the correct drink was brought out by the sweet waitress, and my husband thought she looked sad and hoped he didn't get her in trouble! A very minor quibble about a wonderful meal. After that, we drove to the Thai market on Hollywood Blvd. and DH happily came home with 3 different syrups, some hot sauces, a can of jackfruit, and a bag of "seafood mayonnaise" potato chips (after trying a bag of "pickle" flavored potato chips in Canada once, the more unusual flavor of chip, the better to me!).
As usual, the service was friendly and accommodating--each time we've been, Jazz has made us feel like long lost friends with whom she can't wait to share her family's fantastic food. Also, it seems like they may have changed the Southern menu since Erik M. first posted the translated version; for one thing, now there are over 50 items on it rather than the 40 he initially wrote up, and we also didn't see the yam sôm mûang "Pak Nang", or Amphoe Pak (Pha)nang-style papaya salad listed (and tried to ask about it, but the waiter suggested a different papaya salad, not seeming to know exactly what we were talking about). So, with even more items offered now, I wonder how long it'll take us to work our way through all of them... Thanks again, Erik, for bringing this restaurant to our attention!
I tried the catfish salad yesterday; your description is perfect. I was a little surprised when it arrived at the table, too -- I was expecting a fillet of catfish, fried, then shredded. What came out wasn't entirely to my taste; I don't think I like catfish-flavor cotton candy (though the mango part underneath was very good).
My favorite dish so far has to be the phak bung fai daeng (not on the menu), recommended by Erik. He describes it as "water spinach with chile and yellow beans" -- it's sauteed, served in a light, sweet-vinegar sauce. I couldn't taste any chile, but the little yellow beans (fermented?) have a fantastic, unique sour flavor that permeated the dish. The bill described it as "Morning groly".
Once again we had a spicing problem. My sweetie wanted "medium", I wanted "authentic", so we compromised, told the waitress we liked different amounts of spice, and ordered the catfish and a curry "medium" and the phak bung fai daeng "like you would make it for a Thai person". The catfish and the phak bung came out mild, and the curry was medium, though the receipt indicated the spice levels as we had ordered them. Perhaps it would have been different if Jazz had been around, or if we hadn't tried to split the spice levels.
Good to know about the Morning Glory. My wife and I were recently in Thailand and fell in love with the stuff. We'll have to give it a try next time we dine at Jitlada and let you know how it stacks up. On a related note, does anyone know whether or not they also serve fried morning glory with garlic and chilis?
Thus far, our favorite dish is the southern style dry curry.