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Much Beloved Thai "Renu Nakorn" Returns to Norwalk - Review with PHOTOS

PHOTOS:
http://elmomonster.blogspot.com/2008/...

If you've heard of Las Vegas's Lotus of Siam, then you should already know about Renu Nakorn in Norwalk. Lotus was Renu before it went through Thai restaurant cellular mitosis and migrated to Sin City where it became the blockbuster it is today, hailed by virtually every single member of the food press as the best Thai restaurant in America.

It must be said that the original Renu already enjoyed that distinction long before it relocated to the desert. In the mid to late nineties, Jonathan Gold and Tom Armitage -- two of the original Chowhounds -- had proclaimed Saipin Chutima's food as the best you can get outside Chiang Mai.

But after the Chutimas left to start Lotus of Siam, there were rumblings that Renu's quality waned, like what happened to Batman after Tim Burton handed it over to Joel Schumacher. Added to that, the complex it stood fell into disrepair. Eventually, the whole grimy set of buildings was razed and just like that, Renu was gone.

The scene seemed to fade to black for Renu. But then, earlier this summer, there was a Christopher Nolan-esque rebirth.

Renu miraculously reopened at the same location but in a freshly rebuilt and stuccoed mini-mall that wouldn't look out of place in Celebration, Florida. Best of all, word was that the food was back to being good.

Since it was our first time in (our previous attempt, years ago, was met with the discovery that we had driven 30 minutes to arrive at an empty lot), we stuck with the basics.

First was the tom kha gai, which was so thick with coconut cream a spoon could've gotten stuck in it. Wait too long, and the liquid will cool and solidify back into a coconut. It was rich, but not the least bit tiring on the palate. Our mouths never once signaled that it had had enough. All the requisite flavors of "yum" were there. The twangy, lime-perk of citrus; the gingery-bite of galangal; the faint perfume of kaffir lime leaf and lemongrass; and of course, the sinus-clearing, sweat-gland-triggering presence of chili.

Their fried tofu, though, was really just fried tofu. Also the sweet and sour sauce was a bit flat and lacking when compared to Lotus of Siam's, but the pork larb erased that disappointment with a sharpness that could cut paper. In this dish, ground meat has never met a better ally than lime juice, chili flakes, cilantro and red onion. And it was even more excellent with rice.

Dessert was coconut ice cream and fried bananas...scratch that...it was fried plantains, done in a style that I haven't had since the Wat Thai Temple food vendor fair was shut down. These were exactly like those. Not sweetly cloying, or covered in batter, or wrapped inside an egg roll wrapper. It was done with nothing but a light shimmer of coating and a loving fry till crisp. I ate one and looked up heavenward. Delicious!

The best dish at Renu Nakorn that night was the crispy mussel omelette -- which also happens to be one of our favorites at Lotus of Siam. Glutinous rice flour, egg and mussel form a pan-fried disc as rigid and round as a Frisbee. This rendition trumped LoS's version by miles (about 300 miles to be exact). All at once, it was sticky, gooey, crackly, crunchy, oily, chewy -- textures that still haunt my dreams and put Renu Nakorn back on the map as one of the best Thai restaurants in America...or at least in Southern California.

Renu Nakorn
(562) 921-2124
13019 Rosecrans Ave., Ste 105
Norwalk, CA 90650

PHOTOS:
http://elmomonster.blogspot.com/2008/...

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  1. I'm shocked no one has replied to your well-written post yet. Thanks for a great review and beautiful pics (are you a food photog? ) Too bad Norwalk is far from me...

    6 Replies
    1. re: sibaik

      I was going to say the same thing, but I figured elmomonster may be the poster here who needs the least positive feedback. But just in case I'm wrong:

      Elmo, you are a monster. Well done.

      Is this the same Nakorn that has a sister branch that burned down?

      1. re: gadflier

        HAHA! Thanks guys. The place has been open since summer, and there'd been other posts, so I wasn't expecting too many comments, but it's still nice to know people are still reading!

        This is actually "The Other" Nakorn. Thai Nakorn is still alive and well, residing in Stanton.

        http://monstermunching.com

        1. re: gadflier

          Great review, elmo. I love Renu Nakorn, and I love Thai Nakorn (unrelated, but the burned-down Thai Nakorn is being rebuilt), but for different things. So, since I live between the two, I get to have the best of both worlds.

          1. re: Das Ubergeek

            That's an awesome scoop Das! I heard inklings of that somewhere in the grapevine, but now you've confirmed it!

            http://monstermunching.com

            1. re: elmomonster

              I work down GG Blvd., so I pass the site often. It's slow going, though.

        2. re: sibaik

          Nah, just a regular joe with a digital point and shoot...and oh yeah, rudimentary knowledge with PhotoShop!

          http://monstermunching.com

        3. This place is so great and I can't wait to go to the new locale. I love the mussel omelette at LOS too so I'll be ordering that. Thanks for the writeup!

          5 Replies
          1. re: estnyboer

            This one's definitely one of the better mussel omelettes I've had! Hope you enjoy!

            http://monstermunching.com

            1. re: elmomonster

              I love of a good hawy tawt / hawy tawt, but there's no way I'd go back to Renu Nakorn for that one dish, especially when it can be found elsewhere in the neighborhood.

              Renu's time came and went after the remodeling. 4 other Thai restaurants now serve up superior Issan food in the (562). RN can't even whip up a good kaeng if you asked them to.

                1. re: Professor Salt

                  Can Coon, Bellflower, email me for complete translation

                  Rachada, Santa Fe Springs
                  http://tinyurl.com/6qophl

                  Thai Issan, Cerritos (not Norwalk
                  )http://sinosoul.com/?p=661

                  Tantalizing Thai, Lakewood
                  http://www.tantalizinglythai.com/tt02...

                  Pix are all from Thai Issan, don't be afraid of seeing Tom (very non-Thai) at the register. Linda (mother in law) makes some mean Lao/Issan food... I s'pose I should really write it up sometime...

                   
                   
                   
          2. thanks for the history lesson. I'll be going to LoS next week :)

            4 Replies
            1. re: ns1

              If you go for lunch, be aware that they serve a truly awful-looking buffet (you know, sweet & sour pork, trays of pad thai, etc. Just ask for the menu instead.

              1. re: Das Ubergeek

                Agreed. I was just there the day after T'Giving (for lunch), and although we arrived later in their lunch service (1:30), I never in the 1.5 hours I was there saw them refresh the buffet.

                One other note; if it's your first time, the menu is HUGE ... almost 200 items huge. It was a bit overwhelming for my wife and I, so we definitely relied on server recommendations for some assistance.

                The one dish we thought was a total homerun, just FYI, was the Crispy Duck with Drunken Noodles. Delish!

                1. re: a213b

                  I'll be scouring the SW board before I go, thanks for the headsup on the crispy duck though, sounds tasty.

                  1. re: ns1

                    Great idea. I meant to do so before we went, but just completely forgot so ended up very overwhelmed by the menu.

                    That being said, enjoy!

            2. Wow, what a transformation from the old "hole in the wall" decor, I want that mussel omelette!