Pad Lao in NYC? Or anywhere?
At a Lao-Thai restaurant (Vientiane in Madison, WI) I fell in love with an amazing dish called Pad Lao. Unfortunately, I haven't found this dish at any other restaurants. Google has failed me. I know that "Pad Lao" is essentially "Lao Noodles" so I don't know whether this is a specific dish or something that this restaurant created. It's a noodle dish with a sweet-sticky-spicy sauce made with brown sugar. That's all I know. It's NOT Pad Thai.
Has anyone ever heard of this dish / had it before? Where can I get something similar? I've tried Zaab Queens in Jackson Heights but no luck. Any ideas? I'm wiling to travel, but need something, you know, in the NYC area, not in the Midwest, when I'm craving Pad Lao.
You're close. Pad Lao is definitely a noodle dish. However, "Pad" is the Laotian word for stir-fry and "Lao" is the native word for Laotian, so Pad Lao actually means "Laotian stir-fry". =)
With that said, another name for Pad Lao is "Pad Mee Lao", which in this case actually does mean "Laotian stir-fried noodles", since "Mee" is one of several ways to say noodles in Laotian.
As with any cuisine, there's no standard way to make a certain dish, however, on average when a dish is called "Pad Lao" or "Pad Mee Lao", the noodles tend to be stir-fried in a sticky sauce, whereas if you want your noodles to be dry, then the dish is called "Khua Mee" or "Khua Mee Lao", since "Khua" means something like dry-fried as opposed to "Pad", which again just means stir-fry.
Like you, I also enjoy the sweet-sticky-spicy sauce in Pad Lao. For those who prefer just sweet and dry, but not spicy, then Khua Mee would be the better choice for them.
I'm not familiar with the NYC area, but many Laotian restaurants I've been to in California serve either Pad Lao or Khua Mee. Good luck finding a place in your area!
Most Thai chefs are familiar with Laotian dishes since most Thai restaurants in the U.S. have at least a couple of Laotian dishes on their menus for variety. Therefore, you might be able to get the Thai chef to make you a special Laotian-style dish by explaining to him or her that there aren't any Laotian restaurants in your area. Since Thai cuisine is kind of similar to Laotian cuisine, it doesn't hurt to ask, right? =)
Anyway, to answer your question regarding the brown-colored sauce, Laotians use caramelized sugar and thick soy sauce (aka sweet soy sauce) to make Khua Mee / Mee Lao / Pad Lao, etc. In addition, Laotians love cooking with herbs, so remember to use fresh, minced (or crushed) garlic in the sauce.
So first caramelize the sugar and then add oil and garlic...cook the garlic until golden brown and then carefully add water, thick soy sauce, tamarind sauce, fish sauce (or salt), Laotian chillies, etc.
If you're making Mee Lao (Khua Mee), you might want to omit the tamarind sauce and chillies, and be sure the noodles are cooked until fairly dry and charred.
Again, there isn't a standard recipe so every Laotian household has its own secret family recipe. Some families will add even more ingredients to their "secret" sauce. =)
I've been on the lookout for Laotian food as well. A friend told me that Zabb was the only spot that serves Laotian-style (actually Issan Thai) food in the city ... bummer that Zabb didn't do the trick for you.
Would love to see if anybody else has ideas... maybe a Laotian chef is hiding somewhere in a Thai or Chinese restaurant?