I tried the new Lotus of Siam in NYC this past weekend, it’s the outpost of the Vegas well-known and quite excellent staple. Opened just a month or so back and I’ve been very curious.
In their original Vegas form, housed off the strip in a strip mall, they are an outstanding Thai restaurant.
The New York version strives to be a more fine dining experience, and also it seems to adjust the food to the New York palette. While there are certainly Thai places in New York, they’re not known to be particularly outstanding by world standards. And having grown up in New York, I can say that New Yorkers don’t really do spice. At least not Thai spicey.
So how would it translate? Not exceptionally well. The bottom line is that if the Lotus of Siam name wasn’t on the door, I would never have known it was supposed to be Lotus of Siam. On the other hand, if it hadn’t said it was Lotus of Siam, I probably wouldn’t have been disappointed. It was perfectly fine upscale Asian food at upscale but not off the charts for New York pricing. It just wasn’t the experience once looks for out of something like the Lotus of Siam takes on New York.
The tasting menu was $65. They say they tailor it to your preferences, I go to Thailand every year and enjoy Thai spicy. I explained my preferences as they should do whatever the chef was most proud of, but to serve whatever would be served to good friends. Thai friend. And not to worry that it might be too spicy, if that’s how it was intended to be.
That’s the kind of thing I might have asked for in Las Vegas, and gotten amazing food. Here they didn’t really pay attention to my preferences at all and sent out seemingly random dishes at whatever pace the service staff got around to it.
Service was completely off, they delivered multiple courses at the same time — our soups with a separate appetizer — and other times had significant delays. They delivered all three entrees together, perhaps that was intended but it’s odd for a tasting menu. And it seemed to coincide with craziness on the floor, staff were running around and didn’t seem to be especially well-orchestrated in doing so. And the food itself was equally erratic.
Here’s the dining room, it doesn’t look particularly Thai-themed which in and of itself is fine. It’s also quite dark, perhaps geared towards New York romance (having grown up near the City, I wouldn’t want to look at me too clearly over dinner, either!). It wasn’t conducive to my habit of discretely snapping food photos but I think they still do offer a reasonable glimpse into what was offered.
We began with a tuna tartare that was also a larb. It made me think that we were in for a really interesting fusion experience, it was spicy and flavorful.
Next came a mix of fried rice, with ham and peanuts and onions.. a bit salty but tasty.
Then things began going downhill. The stuffed chicken and smoked shrimp in fried rice paper were bland and uninspired.
And soups were the worst Tom Yong Goong and Tom Ka Gai I’ve ever tried. The former was sour with no spice. The latter was sweet with no spice.
Both soups were served at the same time as the soft shell crab on apple salad. Again, “meh.”
All three entrees were brought together: Sea bass, short ribs in penang curry, and green curry chicken. The curry was a reasonable rendition of a Thai dish, but the short ribs were undercooked and didn’t come apart with a fork. Since servers were tough to get attention from, instead of managing to secure a knife I pulled it apart with fork and spoon.
The desserts, though, were surprisingly good — ice cream with jack fruit and mango and a tapioca with taro root. Normally Thai places don’t focus on their desserts, American audiences don’t seem to order them, but they did do a nice job here.
In opening in New York City I understand the need to alter the food for a different palate though I wish they’d have opened something closer to their Vegas offering (which I’ll visit whenever there). Perhaps a city populous as New York will have enough diners to sustain it. The temptation to go upmarket, though, with all its glory is understandable. But it’s not part of the ownership’s core competencies, it would seem.
Disappointed. And yet there’s potential in what they’re trying to do. It’s just not as interesting or delicious as what they have already demonstrated an ability to do. Which is a shame.