Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Lao Table

I've somehow never reviewed Osha Thai before, a fairly well known mini chain of Thai restaurants in SF, besides, uh, the dessert my co-workers brought me one day.  Osha is a reliable, easy choice for slightly upscale modern thai food, has a location near our office, and generally is easy to get a last minute reservation at for groups.  So, we go fairly often.  It is always good, but, nothing like the much better Thai food in Sydney!

They recently converted one location to a new concept called Lao Table, more focused on Northeastern Thailand and Laos, where the head Osha chef is actually from.  I was excited to check it out, and see if the focus on more personal cuisine pushed Lao Table a step above the still disappointing SF Thai scene.

It didn't.  It was worse.  Far worse.
Lackluster Meal.
I'll sum this one up easily.  Underwhelming.  Lackluster.  Forgettable.  Most dishes weren't bad exactly, but weren't very good.  One was awful.  I will not be returning.

Service was also not good.  In the first 20 minutes, our water glasses were aggressively refilled.  But after that?  Totally ignored.  We had no water while actually eating our food.

Everything is intended to be shared, yet we were not provided serving utensils for most dishes.

And our server spent more time trying to upsell us and make us add on more dishes than I've ever experienced anywhere before.
Revenswood Zinfandel 2015. $13.
I was really, really craving a nice glass of red wine.  Something not too tannic.  I went for the Zin, and I appreciated that they offered a sample first when I hesitated in selecting a wine.

It wasn't great, but I didn't have the energy to try something else.  A drinkable table wine, with a price tag that didn't match the quality.
Appetizer: Grilled Calamari. $14.95.
"Chargrilled whole calamari and sweet chili-lime topping."

There is one dish on the menu that Yelpers all rave about.  The whole grilled calamari.  It was *why* I bookmarked Lao Table in the first place.  I love really well grilled calamari/octopus.  I insisted we get this.

When it arrived, I smiled.  Presentation was stunning.  Laid out on a wooden board.  It looked well grilled.  We were provided with a real sharp knife to cut it (but no serving utensils).

That knife ... wasn't even enough to cut through it.  The cook on this was horrible.  It was incredibly chewy.  Rubbery.  Impossible to cut.  It had no char, no smoke, nothing redeeming.  Really, really, really not good.

Strangely, it was served on top of a few chunks of celery.  Underneath it.  No idea why.

The spicy sauce on the side however was good, it had some real heat to it.  I enjoyed the sauce, just not with the calamari, at all.

We all tried a few bites, trying different parts, but, there just was literally nothing good about the calamari itself, and we threw it out.
Side: Papaya Salad. $10.
Our server and her upselling worked.  At last minute, another diner asked to add on a side of papaya salad.  It came right after the first appetizer, also with no serving utensil.

It was ... fine.  Standard Thai style papaya salad with a base of shredded green papaya, green beans, cherry tomatoes, and peanuts.  Decently spicy sauce.  The cherry tomatoes were entirely flavorless.

The menu has a papaya salad as a regular salad, for a whopping $21.95 as well.  Which seemed a bit crazy.  Sure, it has pork sausage, pork crackling, and prawns but ... wow.  The $10 price on this seemed a bit high for the small side dish size.
Side: Steamed Vegetables. $5.
After we ordered, our server kept insisting on more things, so I said that maybe we needed vegetables.  Of course she wanted us to get more entrees, but I just went for the simple side of steamed veggies, even though the others were like, "eh".  I guess I was craving veggies.

I didn't really know what the mix would be, but it was carrots, broccoli, and green cabbage.  Simple and steamed.  It arrived with the papaya salad right after the first appetizer, before the second appetizer, and long before the main.   Not quite what I intended, flow-wise.  It came with a spoon on the side to serve it with, I guess?  A single spoon, which, as you can imagine, didn't exactly work.

It was, literally, the only savory dish I liked.  And I didn't like the broccoli or too mushy carrots.  Really, the only savory element, of the entire meal, that I thought was good was a bite of plain steamed cabbage slathered in the hot sauce from the calamari.  I guess I'm glad we got it.
Appetizer: Miang Foie Gras. $23.95.
"Seared duck foie gras, coconut-tamarind reduction, fresh berries with lemongrass smoke."

Ok, foie gras might not be a normal thing to order at a Thai or Laotian restaurant, but, seriously, how do you resist foie gras, particularly seared foie gras?

We should have resisted.  This too came with no serving implements.

"How did they manage to make foie gras so ... boring," is what I uttered after trying this dish.  I literally don't understand how they made it so entirely lackluster, mediocre, and forgettable.

Was there anything *wrong* with the foie gras?  No.  But was it good?  No, not at all.

Backing up.  The presentation, that you can't see here, was the only memorable part, as it came under a dome, that was ceremoniously removed in front of us, and smoke came out.  Ok.

But then we had this.

Not very hot, not very well seared foie gras, two slices.  Assorted not ripe fruit.  A big pile of random salad greens.  Shredded coconut on top.  Perhaps a drizzle of the coconut-tamarind reduction.  Nothing really paired here at all.  No brioche or other carbs, perhaps we were supposed to ... roll it in the lettuce?  And the mediocre raw fruit didn't provide a nice sweet pairing either.  The only texture came from the shredded coconut.

Seriously, the most boring, not well composed foie gras I've ever had.
Entree: Panang Lamb Curry. $23.95.
"Thick coconut milk curry, lamb stew with cucumber salad. Served with jasmine rice."

I was not very hungry, and happy with a meal of foie gras, octopus, and the side veggies/salad, so I told the others to pick whatever curry they wanted.  They selected lamb, which, I'd never pick, since I don't like lamb.  I didn't care though, as it wasn't for me.

Like the other dishes, presentation was nice.  The portion of jasmine rice it was served with however was laughable.  Not enough for one person, let alone two people to share.  Our server, who tried to upsell us on sooo many things, didn't mention this, which was surprising.

The cucumber salad I did try, and it was pretty boring, not much flavor.

The curry sauce I also tried, it was fine, pretty standard panang curry.  The portion of lamb was ok for a single person to have as an entree, but a bit meager for a sharing dish, particularly for the price.  The others who ate it both agreed it was the best dish they had though.
Side: Sticky Rice. $4.
Since the rice quantity was entirely insufficient, we also ordered more rice, and went for sticky rice just to compare.

It was fine.  Warm.  Served in a plastic bag, inside a wooden basket cup.
Dessert: Khao Tom Mudd. $13.
"Sweet coconut sticky rice + red bean in a banana leaf W/ coconut ice cream in a whole young coconut."

For dessert, we had to rule out 3 of the 5 items immediately, as they all had caffeine (thai ice tea, chocolate, or espresso).  Which left two sticky rice based options: mango sticky rice or this.  Since you can get mango sticky rice at any Thai restaurant, we decided to go with the khao tom mudd, even though we had no idea what to expect.

And even once we got it, we had no idea what was going on.  Breaking it down ...

The coconut ice cream really was just served in a young coconut, exactly as the menu said.  No frills.

But it also turned out to be the highlight of the meal for me.  I wonder if they make it in house, or purchase from somewhere.  It had some texture from coconut bits in it, was rich, creamy, and just really enjoyable.  Perfectly melty too.

Serving it in a coconut was a bit strange perhaps, but I liked that too, as I was able to scoop out all the young coconut flesh, and add it to my ice cream.

While the cabbage with spicy sauce was the best savory item, I didn't really *enjoy it*, whereas the ice cream, I did truly enjoy.  That said ... $13 for a scoop of ice cream with a little sticky rice seemed high, like everything else.
Khao Tom Mudd: Inside the Banana Leaf.
But what about the rest of the dish?  That was the unique part.

It was two banana leaves, each with steamed sticky rice inside, as we expected.  Very hot, lots of steam escaped as we opened them.  The sticky rice was ... fine?  A bit boring.  But nice to have the warm sweet rice with the cold ice cream.

The red bean turned out to just be a few red beans scattered inside.  They were cooked fine, but didn't really add much.
Khao Tom Mudd: Inside the Sticky Rice.
But ... there was more.  Inside the sticky rice was ... something else.

We literally had no idea what we were eating.  The menu description didn't say that there was anything but beans and sticky rice inside the banana leaf.  The substance was a strange pink color.  I thought it must be mashed red bean, but ... it clearly wasn't.

After repeating, over, and over, "I have no idea what I'm eating", I figured it out.  I think.  Banana.  But, red banana?  I don't understand.

I ate a full one of these just trying to figure it out, but it wasn't actually good.  The warm sticky rice was nice with the coconut ice cream, but, the red beans were just eh, and that banana was pretty awful.

Next time ... I'd just get a side of coconut ice cream!
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