Thursday, August 04, 2005

Swan Restaurant

Thai Town on Hollywood Blvd is one of L.A.'s most popular food neighbourhoods, and with good reason. But lately, the centre of gravity has shifted to North Hollywood (confusingly named, new Angelenos may not know it's in the Valley...) where adventurous eaters can eat just as well and park much more easily. Swan Restaurant [12728 Sherman Way, 818-764-1892] is a mini-mall treasure right in the heart of Thai Sherman Way, nestled among car repair shops, pupuserias and Peruvian joints. It's a classic L.A. ethnic spot, from phone card ads to Thai game show television to whiteboard menu in language one doesn't read. Heavily Thai clientele, naturally. Swan's takeout menu says that "satisfaction is our goal". This is overly modest - they could aim for "culinary ecstasy" and not fall far short.

Sticky rice and dried fish. $2 specials menu, woohoo! This is a small mound of hard-cooked Thai glutinous rice with jerkified round fish on top, each about the diameter of an apricot but flat. Fish are really tasty, perhaps cured with some soy marinade?

Pork hock on rice. $2 special that feels like a Thai-Chinese dish. Fatty pork leg meat cooked in a simple soy sauce without the garlic and nuclear chilli of Yai's secret weapon. Great comfort food.

Fish cakes. My favourite $2 special which is saying a lot given the quality of the above. Fish cakes here have a softer, slightly less rubbery texture than those I've had elsewhere and the flavour is very basil-y. A sentimental favourite too, as my food-crazy uncle always orders these.

Curry with chilli paste [what is exact menu name?]. You'll recognize this dish on the menu by it's picture, which clearly shows the bright red curry broth and most importantly the black stalk of the fresh peppers "Phrik-Thai" that distinguish the dish as the "jungle curry" which is virtually inedible but delicious at Yai. Here it is still very hot - don't mistake green chillis for beans! - but doesn't have quite the overpoweringly soulful character of Yai's. Thai eggplant, kachai/soapy aromatic Thai ginger, beans, bamboo shoots, pork.

Fish tamarind paste curry with vegetables. Looks a lot like the jungle curry (minus deadly spices) but is much milder with the sweet tamarind flavour. Neither of these contains coconut milk so one savours instead the kaffir limes and curry spices. We chose catfish which was good and gelatinous.

Golden rice mixed with fermented pork tossed with sliced ginger. This is an incredible dish, one of the finest salads I have eaten anywhere in L.A. Rice is deep fried to a crisp in a fish-sauce saturated sauce that imparts a golden colour. Mix in ginger slivers, delectable "fermented pork" (slices of a sausage-like consistency) and basil for an inspired creation. There are rice salads at a lot of Thai places but this one really stands out. Wrap in lettuce leaf.

Whole deep fried trout topped with house special spices. Two dishes were on almost every table in the house; golden rice salad, and this stellar fried fish. Trout that's still moist and fresh-tasting inside is topped with a stunning amount of chopped garlic, handfuls of cilantro and spices that include tiny pieces of fresh kaffir lime (sublime... if I may say so). Every piece of this is a flavour explosion, and even the skin is worth savouring after all the trout meat is gone. A sensational dish.

A fortunate characteristic of L.A.s great Thai restaurants is that each has its own specialties and delights. Swan, Sunshine and Sri Siam provide compelling destinations besides Wat Thai in the new Valley Thai Town. There is a reason to try them all!


Anonymous Das Ubergeek said...

Have you tried the pad Thai at Krua Thai, just east of Swan? Normally pad Thai is this disgusting sticky sweet mess but at Krua it's very different and it's VERY good.

Also, the Peruvian joint right next to Swan, Las Quenas, has absolutely fantastic ceviche.

7:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree La Quena has really good ceviche. I give it two thumbs up!

9:54 PM  

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