When Chef Tui Sungkamee introduces new southern Thai dishes at the Hollywood restaurant he owns with sister Jazz Singsanong, it’s an event. Based on two January visits, I didn’t think Jitlada had very much room for improvement. Thanks to an infusion of new dishes, they now have even less.
Once again, we couldn’t resist the Coco Mango Salad ($11.95), known in Thailand as Tam Som Muang “Pak Nang.” The salad combined sweet mango strips, crunchy cashews, firm shrimp, thinly sliced purple onions, and diced garlic. This time, the salad wasn’t quite as spicy, but it was still outstanding.
The only other dish we repeated was the cauldron of steamed green lip mussels ($12.95), submerged in a lemongrass broth with whole chilies and Thai basil. The massive bivalves were just as sweet and supple as last time, presented with a dish of fiery green chile-garlic sauce.
Menu item #20 is a turmeric-flavored dry curry that normally coats either pork or beef. Thanks to Richard Foss’ article about exotic eating in LA CityBeat, we knew to ask for the dish with crocodile. I’d eaten alligator on several previously occasions, and it was always overcooked and funky, whether it was grilled or fried. Those cooks clearly don’t have Chef Sungkamee’s deft touch in the kitchen. His curry-slathered nuggets of amphibious predator were tender and completely funk free, sprinkled with strands of dill.
Pla Thawt Mamuang ($24.95) was a whole deep-fried sea bass buried in a spicy avalanche of julienned mango and onion, keeping the whole fish flaky and crisp-skinned. The topping was eerily similar to the Coco Mango salad, but much spicier, and accented by crunchy purple cabbage shreds.
Laam Talum Pook ($11.95) was the spiciest dish, “wild curry” stir-fried with cross sections of succulent catfish, Thai eggplant and green beans. My only complaint: all the tiny bones could have pierced my esophagus. Other than that, it was a fierce dish.
Papaya Mae Chan – Pork ($14.99) was a multi-faceted dish involving fatty but flavorful grilled pork showered with peppercorns and a bowl of tangy papaya salad tossed with cashews, tomato and purple cabbage.
Kai Kamin ($9.95) featured nuggets of fried chicken with turmeric and fried garlic, served with honey chile sauce. The bone-in nubs of chicken were overcooked, but the fried garlic was completely addictive.
Jazz disappeared into the kitchen to make dessert for a meeting of 26 Yelpers, who were having dinner in the adjacent dining room. Thankfully, she made extra, and brought us a big bowl. Tiny pearls of clear tapioca were mixed with cuts of jackfruit and young coconut shavings, blanketed with coconut milk. The delicious dessert was served warm and was surprisingly salty, which added extra complexity.
The glass of textbook Thai iced tea ($1.75) is pictured with a playing card printed with snippets from Jonathan Gold’s rave review in the LA Weekly. On every visit to Jitlada, Jazz tells a different part of the story about her encounters with Gold, a testament to his impact for Jitlada, and on Los Angeles in general.
We never received one of our dishes – Kua Kling Caviar ($15.95) – stir fried dry curry with Thai caviar and green beans. There were so many dishes that none of us noticed. Also, we can’t exactly complain. Jazz was feeling magnanimous and not only gave us dessert, she gave us our croc for free, so it more than evened out. It also helped that almost every dish was sensational.
There’s a chance Jitlada could actually get more interesting in the coming months. Jazz said her brother plans to add 200 of their father’s recipes to the menu. 10 new dishes will appear every 2 to 3 weeks!
Until January, Lotus of Siam was the best Thai restaurant I’d experienced in the U.S. Now, without a doubt, Jitlada has passed it by, and may have even lapped the Lotus.