Lers Ros vs. Sai Jai Thai vs. Thai House Express?
I'm on a Thai kick and have been pondering the above question. I've heard great things about all three of these Tenderloin restaurants. Chowhounders, do you have a preference? And how are they different? I'd love to know. Thanks!
They are all worth a try, especially if you are on a Thai food jag anyway - it would not be expensive to hit all three. Lers Ros has the largest menu so the focus tends to be slightly less on noodle dishes than at Thai House Express - they are a greater proportion of the menu at THE.
Sai Jai is run by Northern Thai people, I think, so I would probably go there specifically for dishes from that region.
This is completely unscientific, but I've noticed that I hit Sai Jai for curries, Thai House for noodle dishes, and Lers Ros for less run of the mill entrees.
Of course, all three are great, that's just a habit I've noticed that I've developed over the years.
Lers Ros is in a class by itself. Lots of dishes no one else makes and the cooking is more precise and subtle than I've had at any other Thai restaurant.
Be sure to do a search on the board for posts of favorite dishes (some conveniently referenced by item number from the menu)--mine include Pad Kra Prow Moo Krob (stir-fried pork with crispy rind and basil leaves---the rind is exquisite, perfect amount of heat), #4 Thai herb sausage, fried whole trout. Their dipping sauces are great, each distinctive.
So went tonight, and ordered the Pad Thai, #59 Pla Duk Pad Phed thai style stir-fried catfish with house made chili paste and young peppercorns, and the #62 Pad Kra Prow Moo Krob stir-fried pork with crispy rind and basil leaves. I really wanted to like this place, after hearing everything that everyone has said about it. The peppercorns were definitely intriguing, but we regretted ordering the catfish, which they said comes with one large bone, because I almost choked on a few of the tiny bones, as I wasn't expecting them. The pork belly dish was pretty delicious, but it came wallowing in a sizzling pool of oil (clearly lard, not vegetable oil). The pad Thai was decent but not mind-blowing.
We ordered the dishes a la carte, rather than with rice (since we had ordered noodles) but they brought it out anyway, insisting that the a la carte did in fact come with rice, albeit served separately. Only when we pressed further did they admit that rice is an extra charge. I was so turned off by this that I told them I didn't want the rice — but later regretted it as everything was too rich and salty without something plain to wash it down.
I think the most disappointing element was the service. I was practically screaming for their attention to get water, and they'd fill it up halfway. Same with napkins, and they'd bring back different, "cheaper" napkins unlike the ones we had. It seemed they were really rationing everything. The most frustrating part was that they started taking our plates without asking, before we were actually through eating. That was unpleasant.
All in all, it wasn't a bad experience, but it disappointed my high expectations. But I think everything deserves a few chances, and I think I know what to do differently next time, so I do plan to go back again and order a few different things -- maybe the sausage, like dordogne mentioned, the whole fishes, or perhaps something more experimental (pork entrails? boar?). We'll just have to see.
Too bad about the service. I've never had problems getting attention there since they seem to always have several young women watching over the place trying to keep things moving along. I've found it a little overbearing sometimes.
I would suggest the long-stewed pork leg next time. The salads are great but to me they're very spicy.
Had a lunch with three others at Lers Ros today. My mother is Thai so my tastebuds have experienced everything that Thai food can be over the years. Bottom line: Lers Ros definitely beats anything I've had in the Bay Area so far (excepting not having yet tried Thai House Express), but doesn't quite rise to the level of "top-notch quality Thai food" that can be found on rare occasions in this country. As much as there was subtlety and complexity in the flavors, which were very much authentic, the interplay of spices, heat, and ingredients can be taken to another level or two. In recent personal experience, Thai Siam in Arrington, VA (hole in the wall place with four tables run by a retired woman who grows most of the ingredients she uses and widely considered the best Thai currently on the East Coast) is dish for dish superior to Lers Ros. That said, here's a rundown of our impressions of the dishes today -
#27 Tom ka gai - the balance of flavors was about 90% there - chicken quality was high but a bit skimpy on the amount of chicken. Flavors should have included a bit more intensity in the kaffir lime (and no additional option of adding squeezed lime was provided). All in all, a fine rendition, but there was one or two layers of flavor disappointingly absent (yet more layers than I've discovered in your run-of-the-mill Thai eatery). Perhaps it needed more lemongrass? Or pepper? Something...
#9 - Kao moo yang - I really enjoyed this dish. Pork had a subtly smokey flavor to it, but not overwhelming. Interplayed extremely well with the chili powder sauce. I appreciated that the intensity of the spiciness was set at just the right level to allow for both the under- and overtones of distinct flavors to come together.
#4 Thai herb sausage - judging by scoop amount, I seemed to like this dish more than others in my party did. It was a very pleasant rendition of the SE Asian-style sausage, which is one of my favorite Asian products to begin with. So maybe I have a lower threshold for giving my stamp of approval on this one, but I could find no faults. Tender, juicy, flavorful, not greasy. A winner in my book.
#13 – Som Tom – green papaya salad. hmm - I thought this dish failed just a bit. Kitchen really went hog wild on the spice level, which in itself is not automatically a criticism. Problem was that they let spiciness be the one and only star here. The prawns were flavorless, and the lime dressing seemed strangely diluted. The dish lacked cohesiveness - all of the flavors were distinct elements and just didn't come together.
"Chicken puff" special: samosas, basically, with a peanut dipping sauce. The puffs and filling were quite nice - crispy outside without being too crunchy, and soft flavorful filling. I found the peanut sauce to be lacking, however. There wasn't enough kick to the sauce, and frankly it reminded me of the "dumbed down" version of peanut sauces one finds much too often in Americanized Thai restaurants. Instead of a goo, in my opinion a peanut sauce that was more granular in nature, and with a brighter flavor to its base, would have provided a better texture combination with the puff filing.
#77 Pad See Ew - this was deliberately chosen to be our "bread and butter" dish. One of ubiquity so as to directly compare a comfort food staple with others. Verdict: eh. They really phoned this one in. I appreciated the use of gai lan as opposed to Western broccoli, but still there was nothing to this dish over that which you can find in any Thai place. The noodles were somewhat goupy. Kitchen really didn't do much to accentuate the complexities that this dish, despite being a dark sauce dish, can achieve if you really put some interest into it.
#113 - Quick fried marinated trout with mango sauce - YES SIR! This was an absolute winner, and is worth the trip in itself. Definitely the star of the meal. Perfectly crispy, bones, tail, skin, everything edible. The quintessential Thai "fish and chips" (where the "chips" are actually the extra crispy parts of the fish!). Wonderful flavoring to the fry itself, and equally wonderful pairing of mango sauce.
So final verdict - if all dishes had been on the level of the #113, Lers Ros would be up there with some of the best I'd experienced in this country (Thai Siam in rural Virginia, the late Zab-e-lee in Atlanta before the good owner moved back to Thailand, Thai House in Anchorage, Alaska, Bangkok Thai Cuisine in Mobile, AL at least as of seven years ago). But most dishes fell one important level short of that caliber. I don't mean to be too much of a downer about Lers Ros, because the Bay Area has been a complete wasteland of good Thai cuisine (and the previous time I lived in the Bay Area, 2001-2006, I found absolutely nothing even approaching the Lers Ros level around here).
For me, living down in the South Bay, it's definitely worth a trip up to the city when I have a hankering for Thai food (because nothing down here respects the cuisine), but it's not the sort of place like Thai Siam in rural Virginia where I'd be crating boxes of the stuff away in my trunk on 3-hour "milk runs" for people in D.C. who need an exceptional Thai fix. It's not at that level.
Good to know about the Tom Ka Gai, I've been disappointed with the soups here before. The noodle dishes have gone downhill for me, it seems they are using way less noodles now, and the wok char seems absent.
The Koh Moo Yang is always pretty consistent, but I've had equally good versions (maybe better) at Ozone and Sai Jai, but sadly that was the only good dish for me at Sai Jai.
I love the quick fried trout, but they ran out on my last visit. They subbed tilapia which wasn't quite as good.
Som Tom has been pretty spicy for us as well, surprised you didn't try the raw crab version.