Don Bauder 4:30 p.m., Dec. 9
With its borderline medieval doorway and dark visage, Lotus Thai on Sixth Avenue in Hillcrest looked a touch imposing as the afternoon wore on into evening. Inside, however, it was a different story as the well-appointed restaurant had a whole lot of charm. The contrast between blonde wood, dark accents, and gentle lighting was delightful and the interior decoration created a diverse atmosphere inside the restaurant, which is a bit larger than the quiet facade might indicate.
Service proved to be attentive and unobtrusive during my meal, although the staff's courtesy did extend almost to the point of shyness at a few points. On the whole, I would prefer a shy but effective server over being bothered with clumsy upsells for an entire evening.
As seems to be the case with a lot of Thai places, the short wine list had actually been put together with a little thought and caring. Seven to ten dollar glasses of wine were arranged alongside a little guide that gave a rough outline for pairing different varietals with Thai food. Nice.
$5 glasses of wine, 20oz beers, and starter plates during happy hour (5-7PM) might be a compelling reason to visit Lotus Thai before dinner service gets rolling in earnest.
To start with, a cup of tom kha soup ($3.95) would probably have been sold as a bowl at most restaurants. The soup was, quite honestly, exquisite. The coconut and lemongrass broth was at once rich and piquant. It was perfectly salted and as smooth as velvet. The assorted vegetables and fresh herbs that floated in the soup gave me something to chew on, but I would have been happy with just a neverending supply of the liquid portion.
Moving on to something off of the "chef's special" menu, I tried an order of "three flavors soft-shell crab" that tipped cost all of $14.95. There were three individual crabs sitting atop a bed of lettuce and drenched with what the menu called a "sweet, spicy, tangy tamarind sauce." The crabs had been fried quite nicely and, barring the perpetual weirdness of biting into an entire crab, shell and all, were as pleasant as soft-shell crabs always are. A garnish of citrus supremes and halved grapes was a little bit on the odd side, visually speaking, but the oranges actually accompanied the crab very well. The dish could have been great, but it was plagued by the overwhelming saltiness of the sauce. I am hard pressed to remember having ever in my life been served a saltier dish of food. I ate massive amounts of the light, fluffy, perfectly cooked rice in order to reduce the apparent saltiness of each bite.
Of course, I would have been well within my rights to send the dish back and politely request a replacement. It's a shame that I was in a hurry and unable to do so. It's a lesson that anyone might learn: if you don't like your food, try something else. There's neither shame nor harm in asking for a meal you intend to enjoy. Plus, any chef worth his salt will take the feedback from the dining room with grace.
I would like to try one of Lotus Thai's curry dishes, such as the five spice half duck ($16.95) because, if the soup was any indication, the chef's abilities with coconut milk are formidable indeed.
I think it's important to be able to look through a single gaff and give a place the benefit of the doubt. There is, after all, more to be said for proper food preparation than adding salt, and I believe it's a fair assumption to say that Lotus Thai is going to be a better bet for a good meal than most other places in, or even just above, its price range — almost unbelievably salty crab notwithstanding!
3761 Sixth Ave
Lunch: M-F 11-3, Sat-Sun 12-3
Dinner Sun-Th 5-10, F-Sat 5-11
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