Tuesday, March 16, 2010
Lai Thai Kitchen, 1621 Leonard NE - 3/9/2010
With a very modest location in a small strip center, Lai Thai Kitchen surprised us when we entered. There was a small, interesting Buddhist temple in the entryway, complete with offering, but nowhere were the typical Asian knickknacks; you know what I’m talking about. The room was tastefully and minimally decorated, deceptively modern from its facade. (It used to be a Chinese restaurant called Kim-Kim.)
The small room holds four half-booths along the front window, three booths against a side wall, and six or seven tables fill up the middle. Clean and neat, the place was vacant when we arrived for lunch, other than two visible employees (by the time we left, two people had stopped in for their to-go orders and two other booths were occupied). Seeing sriracha and hoisin sauces on the tables, along with the always-present soy sauce, was a good sign.
The menu is large and offers Thai, Vietnamese, and Chinese dishes. Both being fans of potstickers, we started there and ordered them pan-fried, and received deep-fried. We’ve discovered that it’s difficult to obtain that mid-level of cooking between steamed and deep-fried, unless you’re making them at home. And we were disappointed, particularly since they were overly deep-fried. The ginger-soy sauce was very savory, however, made more so the soaking sesame seeds. We requested small plates for the potstickers but even after our request, we were left to awkwardly and messily eat over the appetizer dish.
For our main dishes, we chose one “house favorite,” Thai Steak, and the Vietnamese Pho Da Biet Bovien. Thai Steak was a mountain of food, with crispy vegetables and a garlic steak sauce. It was decent but not spicy enough. After requesting some hot sauce and adding some sriracha, things were much better.
There were four variations of the popular Vietnamese beef noodle soup on the menu and our server recommended the above-mentioned selection that promised “rare slices of steak, well-done brisket flank, and balls of beef.” Each Pho order also comes with a separate plate of bean sprouts, basil leaves, cilantro, a jalapeno pepper, and a lime wedge, items to be added to taste to the Pho. The broth was delicious and the noodles were fine. The slices of steak were not rare, however, but well-done; the brisket was tender and tasty. But the beef balls were barely palatable, mainly due to the texture. Perhaps the grade of meat was the problem or the other mystery items that were pressed with the beef. They were more like “fat-balls” and were without flavor or merit.
Service was fine on the whole, except for the plate thing, and the menu is varied enough to warrant a return visit. Most dishes are below $10.00; those with seafood range from $10.25 - $14.95, and we left $32.00 behind including tip. Menu is available online.