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The Early Word on Lotus of Siam's Eastward Expansion

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Krieger, 11/2/10

Seemingly out of nowhere, Lotus of Siam, the oft-described best Thai restaurant in America, set up shop in the space formerly occupied by Cru. Unlike the original location in a Las Vegas strip mall, the New York incarnation is in a decidedly more high-class address. That also means higher prices and a pared-down menu with high-quality ingredients. They opened to the public last week, albeit a soft opening in which they would only be serving a seven course tasting menu. That's hardly a deterrent for New Yorkers as they've flocked to try what they're hoping is at least the best Thai they've had in the city. So what's the verdict? Some raves, a lot of disappointment:

The "Not the Best Thai in America" News: The College Critic writes about his meal and his headline "Lotus of Siam Not the Best Thai in America" pretty much says it all. He continues from there, spelling it out even clearer in the first paragraph. "Regrettably, Lotus of Siam barely edges out numerous other Thai restaurants I frequented in St. Louis and visited in Washington D.C.; while I have not yet dined at every Thai restaurant in America, I seriously doubt that Lotus of Siam claims the title of absolute best, especially considering its relatively narrow margin over its more mundane relatives." So what exactly has him down on the place? Well, he didn't like the execution of seven-course menu that's being served during the soft opening. "In reality, this strategic ploy resulted in a two hour long, teeth-grindingly slow meal that failed to showcase a smooth operation." [The College Critic]

The Mostly Good News: Goodies First visits and after wondering whether any comparison can really be made to the Las Vegas original, she pretty much renders her verdict. "Based on the opening week tasting menu—yes, I’m curious to see the variety and pricing of the regular entrees—Lotus of Siam presents Thai food that ranges the gamut from regional Issan specialties to fancified inventions. And they’re most successful when focusing on those two ends of the spectrum. The most disappointing dish turned out to be a generic green curry, something I wouldn’t normally order anywhere of my own accord even in Thailand." Let's break that down. She liked the tartare - "herby with vegetal lime leaf undertones, toasted rice powder chalkiness and a powerfully hot chile punch, this was a promising start" - and the two starters, both things she'd had at the Vegas location. She really didn't like the kang khiao wan. "It was like a bowl of water with stuff in it and even the stuff tasted like water..." [Goodies First]

The "Please Come to Denver" News: Laura Shunk of Cafe Society, a Denver newspaper's food blog, somehow ends up visiting the New York outpost and leaves wanting more. You know it's gonna be a winner when they start by gushing about the service. "While servers moved through the dining room with the uncertain frenzied pace that characterizes soft openings -- when systems are still falling into place -- we were blown away by our waiter's knowledge. The guy was an alum of Le Bernardin and Gordon Ramsay, stolen away by the Thai restaurant. A pro." From there, it's all plaudits for the food. "The nam kao tod paired rice, fried crispy, with bits of spicy Thai sausage, fresh chili and ginger, a sprinkling of peanuts and a liberal squeeze of lime...We loved the delicate crunch of the rice so much, we ate every single grain." She ends her post with a plea to the owners. "We're convinced that these two Lotus of Siam spots are the best Thai restaurants in the country. Now we just need the group to open a third restaurant in Denver." [Cafe Society]

The "Abysmal Service" News: Brad posts his thoughts on the Wine Berserkers forum and to say that he was disappointed would be a colossal understatement. "Tonight a bunch of fellow Berserkers and I had the most disastrous dining experience most of us have ever experienced in a restaurant...if you're charging $75 a head for a set menu, you damn well better do at least a serviceable job. They didn't come close." He then proceeds to break down his massive dislike. The word abysmal comes up a few times. The service. "Abysmal. From the wait staff, to the sommelier to the manager. At first, it was overly attentive and a little stuffy and then non-existent for about 30-40 minutes... I got knocked in the head (did not receive an apology or excuse me) when they were reaching to clear plates. During another course, I had two different staffers reach for my plate at the same time and a slight tug of war ensued. Literally... The straw that broke the camel's back was when after the soup course, they set new plates in front of us, then removed them and then ignored us for 30+ minutes as we waited for the first entree course to arrive. At that point we called over management and decided to leave." [Wine Berserkers]

The "Good, But Restrained" News: eGullet forum poster LPShanet is pleased with his meal. There's the tuna koi soy. "It was like an elevated version of a dish I'd had a number of times in Thailand, and one of the spicier of the evening. The preparation was somewhat like a good laab/larb with slivered onion, etc. A very good start." The appetizers that followed weren't anything special but he does appreciate the execution. "Though many of these items were the least interesting due to their ubiquity at Western Thai places, they were very well executed...great versions of their kind." The common refrain and the only real complain might be the seemingly restrained approach to spiciness when compared to the Vegas original. "The version of the coconut soup I had in their Vegas outpost was much spicier... Both [soft shell crab yum and green mango yum salads] were surprisingly mild... The green was a bit milder than authentic green curries usually are." He drives home that point at the end of his post. "Overall, it was a great meal, but I just couldn't help feeling that maybe Chef Chutima was pulling her punches a bit on all the food, or trying to present a more "refined" or Westernized version of her food than I experienced in the Vegas restaurant." [eG]

The "Not the Paragon of Efficiency" News: Yelper Aaron T. hated the place. "Lotus of Siam NY won't be long for this world due to over-priced, small portions of average food, a meager and mostly absent wine list, and service so poor that it makes the DMV look like a paragon of efficiency. I am generally sympathetic to restaurants, especially newly opened ones, but this was absolutely insultingly bad. We walked out halfway through the meal. Best part was when we asked for the manager, he began berating us, saying we had not all arrived at the reserved time. I know this is a new place and there are kinks to work out, but wow. Just wow." [Yelp]

The "Riesling was AMAZING" News: Yelper Laura P. has a much better experience during her visit, especially with their wine. "This is an interesting place that combines the amazing looking of the Vegas joint with the amazing wine list of Cru. This place is good for someone who wants to switch it up from the french/italian/fusian/new american routine. It's upscale but still very authentic. I would come here again for the wine." No worries, it's not just the wine because she loved the food as well although it's possible a great wine pairing made it work. "Soft shell crab with apples were amazing, cooked very nicely. I really enjoyed the scallop, again the sauce had layers of spiciness and tons of flavors. 1990 alfred merkelbach Riesling was AMAZING. sweet and great for spicy food." [Yelp]

The Twitterific News: @adambuss_nyc has a warning for all. "Warning - do not get excited, do not go. What a waste." @amusementality left wanting more and not in the good way. "How am I still hungry after a six-course dinner? Lotus of Siam NY #fail." @rcadrian wasn't happy but is hopeful for further improvement. "Day 3 Lotus of Siam NYC soft open. Slow service, expensive and not even close to Vegas food/ experience. Disappointed, but will try again." @Rhonegal just can't believe how they could get it so wrong. "Shockingly bad experience at Lotus of Siam in NY. LOVE the original LOS in Vegas. This was TERRIBLE! service was appalling. Food just ok." Restaurateur @WilliamTigertt liked his meal there. "I now see why all the soms are all happy pants about the vintage Rieslings and the Yum Soft Shell Crab." [Twitter]
—Gary Wong

Lotus of Siam

24 5th Avenue, New York, NY 10011 Visit Website

Lotus of Siam

248 5th Ave., New York, NY

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