Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Krua Thai

Once I discovered the great Thai neighbourhood on Sherman Way in North Hollywood, I knew there would be many happy meals in the vicinity. Krua Thai [13130 Sherman Way, North Hollywood, (818) 759-7998] is the latest bombshell in my culinary universe, a noodle-centric Thai restaurant to set one's tastebuds aglow with the characteristic vibrancy missing from non-Thai neighbourhoods. As usual, there's a long menu with your favourite Thai classics. I'm sure many of these are tremendous, but this place is the North Hollywood noodle motherlode that puts Sanamluang in the shade. I would follow your Thai fellow-diners and hew to the noodle sections.

Pad kee mao.
Back in my San Francisco days, frequent King of Thai visits centred on the eternal question, #14 or #15? One was the pad see eew with meat of your choice (ground chicken or pork are my favourites), fat rice noodles/fun stir-fried with the sweet black soy sauce called kecap manis in Indonesia. Pad kee mao was the other unvarying choice, the same noodles cooked with copious amounts of chilli, garlic and basil for a hotter and more fragrant dish. Krua Thai's pad kee mao is the best I've had. You'll want to tuck in as soon as it arrives, piping hot from the wok. With noodles this great, etiquette must take a back seat - worst comes to worst you'll have to share with your salivating table companions.

Pad thai.
The exemplar of the Thai dish that loses it's stinky funk when rendered in bland Westside Thai emporia. But this is Krua Thai, so fear not, the dish is saturated in tiny dried shrimp and fish sauce, and is good and hot like it should be. Without over-egging, the sour flavours are more prominent and a squeeze of lime plus spoonful of preserved green chillis from the condiments jar perfects the dish.

General's Noodle.
Sanamluang makes a famous and tasty version of this dish, but I can attest that Krua Thai's is even better. First of all, you can choose soup or dry. The waitress recommended dry with soup on the side which turned out perfect. A large deep bowl is filled with a plenitude of meats and fixin's plus thin egg noodles that one mixes together bibimbap style. Fatty roast duck, fine char siu/roast pork, ground chicken and sliced pork meet bean sprouts, ground peanuts, green onions, fried garlic in a fabulous fermented-fish-rich sauce. There is glory and variety in each bite, and like the greatest of noodle dishes the noodles themselves are an equal partner; I felt sad when I finished mine too soon and had to eat the remaining meats. If you had to order one thing off the menu, I think this would be it.

Salted blue crab salad.
LA street food mavens are familiar with the green papaya salad from the Thai temple, and generally have their favourite stall and chef. This is where I discovered the salted blue crab, an ingredient that screams "stinky authentic Thai food". It's a small little crab generally broken into quarters or so and eaten as a crunchy whole. The flavour is very salty but tastes almost exactly like seawater, with a long and pleasant aftertaste. The salted crab salad at Krua Thai is made of green papaya but the crab is the star. Ask for it spicy and savour the greatness of North Hollywood!

Monday, October 03, 2005

Las Quenas

Everyone loves Peruvian food. Not only because Peru is the original home of the potato, but its cuisine is a beguiling mixture of Spanish, indigenous and sometimes Chinese influences. I was thus thrilled to discover Las Quenas [(818) 764-3962, 12708 Sherman Way, North Hollywood] around the corner from the incandescent Thai restaurant Swan. Las Quenas passes the ethnic restaurant test - it's full of Peruvians and the food is predictably great. Here's what my friend Alvaro and I enjoyed:

Ceviche - I'm pretty sure that raw fish in an acidic (often citrus) marinade has evolved more than once - in fact I sampled a tremendous version at my Tongan friend's 21st birthday party. That said, Peruvians are justifiably famed as the perfecters of the dish, as the ceviche pescado here demonstrates. The fish is impeccably fresh and the dressing has a nice amount of raw onion bite.

Causa rellena - Here the Peruvian potato staple is mashed and layered with mayonnaisy, lime-scented tuna. According to Alvaro, the number and composition of the layers can differ, but we both liked this version as a potato alternative to the classic papas ala huancaina that I normally order.

Lomo Saltado - Certainly in anyone's list of most essential Peruvian dishes, this stir fry of beef steak strips, french fry-sliced potatoes, peppers and tomatoes is irresistable. Alvaro gave it a hearty thumbs up at Las Quenas.

Cau-cau - Leave it to the low end theorist to order tripe stew in face of delightful tallarins, saltados, chaufa and Peruvian whatnot. This was actually very good, with a greenish cilantro flavoured sauce and tender tripe.

Alfajor - The pumpkin doughnut-type thingies called picarones are available here, but we opted for alfajores, shortbread biscuits sandwiched around a supersweet layer of caramel. They were great, with a much thicker caramel layer than storebought ones.

As in other Peruvian restaurants I've enjoyed, the accoutrements are all here, from violent crimson chicha morada (corn drink) to crusty cardboard rolls and most importantly the wonderful green chilli and garlic sauce called aji. I have yet to find this a store in LA, but with Alvaro's recent arrival on the scene this lacuna in my pantry cannot last long. Give Las Quenas a try and satisfy your Peruvian jones!