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Jan 24, 2011 09:35 PM

Chowdown at Lers Ros - Report

Six of us met at Lers Ros for an early dinner tonight. We’d done our research from prior posts and had notes. I think only one of had ever been there before.

We ordered:

#4 Thai Herb Sausage
#27 Tom Kha Gai
#25 Larb Phed Yang (Duck larb)
#113 Pla trout Tod Nam Pla (Whole trout)
#62 Pad Kra Prow Moo Krob (Crispy pork belly, ala carte)
#14 Som tom Khai Khem (Green papaya salad with salted egg)
Something off the specials board – written in Thai and translated by a server as shrimp paste with fish and vegetables.
And dessert was sticky rice with coconut and a scoop of toasted almond ice cream.

Loved the sausage – very heavy notes of lemongrass, and someone else noted kefir lime. Smokey, good texture, hearty, and a very good portion for 6 to share.

We ordered the tom kha because someone had heard it was the best around. Don’t know what is traditional, but I think most of us found it rather thin, wanting it to be a little creamier. It was tasty, with a nice brightness, but certainly not the best rendition I’ve ever had. (I have to say I really prefer Osha Thai’s version – the one on Valencia.)

The duck larb was wonderful. Rich and fatty but not overly so. The duck flavor stood out cleanly from the tangy chilli powder and lime dressing. It was described on the menu as “chunk of roasted duck” as opposed to minced like the pork larb, but the server said it was chopped up, and it was. I could have eaten this dish all by myself.

The whole trout was another winner. Really crispy, but tender inside, salty, with a great sauce on the side of mango and chilis. The menu states it is guaranteed fresh every day. They crisp the spine up so you can eat it like really crunchy potato chips. I could not stop eating the skin.

The pork belly was fantastic too – just like chicharrones, with a crispy, fatty rind, and sprinkled with basil. We had been looking for the pork shoulder some on CH recommended, but couldn’t find it; I just now, in re-reviewing the menu at home, found a pork shoulder in one of the salads (#17). I would have gladly had another pork dish.

The papaya salad was the only real miss, for me. It was a bit spicier than everything else (though I truly found nothing really spicy here – of course, we ordered it only medium-spicy, and I didn’t see any of the usual condiments on any of the tables; I could have asked but I was too busy eating), but the salted egg was not detectable to me as a flavor, only as a bit of a mushy texture with the papaya. It wasn’t bad, but next to all the other stand-outs, it wasn’t anything special at all.

The item we ordered off the Specials board was a bit of a puzzler. We ordered it to be adventurous and instead of a curry, reasoning that we’d all had thai curries before. The dish consisted of fish, fresh veggies, a bowl of shrimp paste, and little frittata-like pieces. The fish seemed to be a kind of mackerel, fried and crispy, so much so that there was not much meat and a lot of bones – those spindly little needle bones that get stuck in your throat if you’re not careful. The shrimp paste sauce was really strong when I first had it with the fish, but I think I determined that with the veggies and the little triangles of veggie omelet it was quite good. The mackerel itself was fairly strong tasting. The veggies included fat slices of cucumber, lightly steamed broccoli, quartered whole raw thai eggplants, and bamboo shoots. I think that was all. I really loved the little omelet slices – very green tasting and a good texture contrast to the veggies. I also very much liked the raw eggplant, which surprised me. The broccoli was perfectly steamed to crisp/tender, and the cucumber was very soothing. But, probably wouldn’t order this dish again.

We were absolutely stuffed, but “had” to have a taste of the sticky rice with coconut, and the toasted almond ice cream sounded interesting. We ordered one to split, and it was a generous portion. The rice was delicious and warm and buttery, with a clean coconut taste coming through, and a scoop of not-too-sweet almond-y ice cream alongside.

Five of us had a beer apiece, and I think we ended up paying $22 per person, which included a decent tip.

These were mostly dishes I had never had before, and in that respect, this place lives up to its hype. The only things that really suffered were the more “standard” dishes – the tom kha and the papaya salad. The special was just a bit odd and not particularly delicious. But of everything else we had – the sausage, the duck, the pork and the trout – I would definitely go back for those items. And now I want to try their curries.

Thanks all! Pics below.

Lers Ros Thai
730 Larkin St, San Francisco, CA

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  1. the pork shoulder app you missed is #9, first page, and is definitely amazing, great smokiness, complex spicy dipping sauce.

    1 Reply
    1. We were wondering what the proper pronunciation of "Lers Ros" is, and one of the servers managed "Lehhhr Rhohh" (kind of like the French breathily rolled "R").

      Saw this blurb about the meaning of the name:

      "My waitress translated this to mean "excellent tastes"" - October 31, 2010|By Rosemary McClure | Special to the Los Angeles Times

      1. Thanks for organizing and being photographer MC! No problem parking right across the street at about 5:30 (we didn't know how long it would take from San Mateo but traffic wasn't bad that early)

        I too really liked the pork dish, the duck larb, the crispy trout and the dessert. Nothing like a yummy dish of basically chicharrones (I could have eaten the whole serving...). Very disappointed also in the papaya salad; usually one of my favorites but this one definitely fell short. (Note to self: need to get back to Vung Tau in San Jose for their version with beef jerky on top...) I'm afraid I bogarted the crispy fins, most of the backbone and the head of the trout (but only after the dish had made a circuit of the table!).

        Appreciated finally getting to try Lers Ros. Good idea to go early - place filled up quickly and a group was waiting for our table when we left.

        Vung Tau Restaurant
        535 E Santa Clara St, San Jose, CA 95112

        2 Replies
        1. re: RWCFoodie

          One year later; fast forward to February 2012 - six of us (RWCFoodie+) returned with a follow-up to your dinner.
          #4 Thai Herb Sausage
          #9 Koh Moo Yang
          #25 Larb Phed Yang (Duck larb)
          #113 Pla trout Tod Nam Pla (Whole trout)
          #62 Pad Kra Prow Moo Krob (Crispy pork belly)
          #103 Nuer Pad Prik Thai Ooan sliced tender beef, stir fried with young pepper corn and galingal
          Spinach in Bean Sauce
          Green Curry with Chicken
          Fried Banana with coffee ice cream
          Coconut Almond ice cream with honey
          The sauce on the Nuer Pad Prik Thai Ooan made us sigh with delight. Koh Moo Yang was meltingly tender. Pla trout Tod Nam Pla fried to perfection. No misses at this table. Six is the magic number.

          1. re: Cynsa

            An excellent meal! I believe we ordered the best of the best. Fresh tastes and careful preparation made the meal for me. I didn't realize that it had only been a year since my last visit and honestly didn't remember having some of the same dishes.

            For whatever reason, those dishes (the fried trout, herb sausage, crispy pork belly and duck larb) just seemed so much better than what I remembered. Perhaps because this time we ordered medium spicy - I really didn't need it to take my head off with heat that kills taste buds.

            Has anyone tried #32 Stuffed calamari in soup with egg tofu (I don't recall seeing any posts about it)? Sounds interesting to me...

        2. The item you ordered off the blackboard is a nahm prik. This is practically the national dish of Thailand and comes in a huge variety of versions.

          From David Thompson's monumental "Thai Food",

          "Relishes - nahm prik and lon - are the very core of Thai cooking and have fed the Thai from their distant past to the present."

          Nahm prik is usually based on shrimp paste, and so is a very acquired taste, often difficult for western tastes. It is usually fire hot. I remember one in Bangkok as the hottest thing I have ever eaten. My wife gave up after one bite even though she loved all the little veggies that come with a nahm prik for dipping.

          The one at Lers Ros also has a fried fish for dipping, but although that apparently is not rare, the usual accompaniment are just an assortment of the weird and wonderful vegetables, mostly, raw from the amazing Thai markets.

          Given the extremely strong flavors, it is not surprising that it is very rare on US Thai restaurant menus, only seen at the very best and most authentic, like Lers Ros and Jitlada in LA and Lotus of Siam in Las Vegas.

          It is worth trying again to get the hang of this very Thai experience. I have gotten to enjoy it.

          2 Replies
          1. re: Thomas Nash

            Sai Jai has one (a northern-style Nam Prik Ong), although it is not particularly hot or pungent in my opinion. Maybe the Northern versions are a little less fierce, or perhaps they tone it down for the non-Thai customers?

            1. re: Thomas Nash

              thanks for this info! It wasn't very hot at all, and the veggies were nice and fresh and tasted good with the sauce, but i didn't like the mackerel (or whatever it was) with it. maybe some other type of fish. in fact, i liked the shrimp paste on the trout very much. I could tell it was something that must be a rendering of something traditional in Thailand - i knew we were missing something, but i just couldn't figure out what. I'd like it better if the fish were in chunks, maybe, or if the veggies had been cut up a bit smaller to make dipping easier....

            2. Thanks to mariacarmen for getting us together for a very satisfying feast and writing up such a great description.

              Since I agree with almost all of mariacarmen’s and RWCFoodie’s comments I don’t have much to add. My first few bites of some of the dishes didn’t seem to have that much flavor, then I realized that the green papaya salad had temporarily affected my taste. Once that cleared up I really enjoyed the flavors, especially the sausage, duck larb, trout and pork belly.

              The nam prik included some cabbage in addition to the other ingredients mentioned. I liked the shrimp paste flavor and used it fairly liberally without feeling that much heat. I must have somehow avoided the chili pieces at first because the last bit I spooned onto a piece of cabbage definitely burned. I was sceptical about the raw Thai eggplant but its crunchiness and flavor went well with the shrimp paste.

              The pork belly serving was pretty small, definitely not enough for 6 people to get more than a taste. What was there was great. The nam prik was the only dish with a really large portion size, most of the other dishes were more suitable for 4 to share than for 6. I’m not complaining about the value here—we had plenty of very high-quality food to eat at minimal cost. I can’t think of another place I’ve been to recently that provided so many really delicious tastes for so little money.

              It’s hard for me to choose from among my 4 standout dishes but I think the duck larb may have been my favorite. I am definitely looking forward to a return visit with an eye to trying more pork dishes.