Bob and I flew to Las Vegas for lunch on Tuesday. Could have eaten at all kinds of exemplary restaurants with style and ambience up the ying-yang, but we chose instead to revisit Lotus of Siam. When we were there last, about 1998, it was a single room quietly enjoying internet-buzz based cult status. We were there on a Friday evening and I'm not sure the restaurant was even completely full.
Compare to Tuesday: the restaurant opened at 11:30 a.m. which is about when we arrived too--timing on our part that had everything to do with how long it took to get a rental car after landing from Seattle than any anxiety we felt about not getting a table. The parking lot was already pretty populated with people who WERE that anxious, however, and by 1:00 when we left there was a long line of people outside the building waiting for tables to free up. It reminded me less of a culinary mecca than the line for the "famous fried chicken dinner" at the Knotts Berry Farm theme park of my childhood. I'm also fairly certain that originally the walls were once green silk and not covered with signed celebrity photos. Now, however, the green silk's gone and photos are the wallpaper, and among others we sat below Mario Batali, Jim Belushi and some couple from Montana I've never heard of but whose photograph caused Bob and I to wonder if we shouldn't travel with 8x10 glossies and pretend we're bigshots.
The wine list has quadrupled in size. If David Bueker hasn't been here yet then I have to believe he knows that if he ever does the wine list will please immensely--it's like ten pages about Riesling. After much deliberating, and wishing I had David on speed-dial (now that everybody has smart phones, is this archaic phraseology?) to help me locate which wine had the best chance of being the fruitier kabinett or drier spatlese I would like best with this kind of food, I gave up on being able to competently ferret out a hidden gem (no somm/owner's son to help with this task as before) and went with a reasonably priced 2011 Christoffel spatlese.
The menu? Don't know if it's the same as before or larger, but I'm betting on larger. Much larger. It's quite extensive in a way that alarms me in general (restaurants who try to do everything spread their talents too thinly), and it might suffer from an over-desire to please, where a few people come in and ask for a dish like they get at a Thai restaurant in Houston or Miami so it gets added to the menu. Seemed more Thai-American than I recall, and many dishes were, at least by description, identical but for one or two ingredients.
Still on the list was the crispy rice and sour sausage that wowed me the first time (and which via internet buzz I knew back then was a Must Order), and which I remember vividly. Had to order it again, but what we had on Tuesday was both darker and less crispy, and less finely tuned in seasoning and texture. What was spectacular is now merely good, and where once I told everyone I recommended the restaurant to to order this dish, I would not now. The stuffed chicken wings we started with were the best thing we ate, the charred beef salad fine but not dazzling, and the green curry a real plain Jane of a thing, merely serviceable especially when compared to an spectacularly complex version we had at a true hole in the wall in Lahaina, Maui, last month, and well below the level 7 heat we asked for. The rice was overcooked.
Overall, service felt rushed and sloppy, again in the manner of Mrs. Knott's fried chicken dinner. Sad to say but you're just a tourist there now, not a diner and potential friend as was once the case. The leisurely elegance I remember of that long ago evening is not only gone but seems no longer possible.
For all these years I've held up that one early meal as a model for all Thai food to come. But not any more. Consider me officially Over It.
My wine shopping and I have never had a problem. Just a perpetual race between the bankruptcy court and Hell.--Rogov