I like to think that my palate is “all grown up now” – that I’m finally reaching a point where I don’t have to smother my posts with disclaimers that “This is the first time I’ve had this,” or “I haven’t yet acquired a taste for raw cow flesh.” I feel proud when my friend Ali from college sends me e-mails like, “My head injury must have affected my eyes, because I just thought I read about my beloved Didi eating LAMB'S NECK! Surely, I was just seeing things!”
I feel a great sense of accomplishment after sampling each unusual dish or animal part – like I am slowly eradicating the image I hold of myself as “the picky-palated princess from the OC.” Picky-palated princesses don’t eat pork jowl. Or perk up when they see a grilled octopus tentacle or squid ink-stained noodle.
That said, during my most recent experience at Jitlada, the beloved Hollywood Thai restaurant that is famous for its Southern Thai specialties and scorching hot curries, I was alarmingly attached to the Pad Thai with tofu. My cheeks burned with shame as I heaped a hefty pile of the sticky rice noodles, glossy from the liberal application of the sweet tamarind and lime juice-based sauce, onto my plate. It had been ages since I’d had good Pad Thai – Pad Thai that is well-balanced, texturally exciting from the perfect juxtaposition of bean sprouts and carrot shreds to jelly-like noodles, and not merely a bland clump of flavorless mush.
But as good as Jitlada’s Pad Thai tasted to me, I couldn’t help feeling guilty for liking it as much as – possibly more than – the other more “foodie-acceptable” dishes that were on the table. Yes, I adore and adored the Steamed Mussels composed of meaty New Zealand green mussels that have been steamed with lemon grass and mint leaves and served with a potent broth punctuated with garlic, dried chilies and Thai basil. I ripped the pungent oceanic specimens from their shells and marveled at their girth and freshness just like I have in the past.
I smacked my lips with approval when presented with the restaurant’s equally famous Crispy Morning Glory Salad, a satisfyingly crunchy concoction of deep-fried morning glory, pungent shards of raw red onion, shrimp, and a spicy house dressing. It’s a textural jolt of caffeine for the mouth – just the thing to perk up the taste buds for the hotter dishes on the menu like the Spicy Sugar Brown Chicken with southern curry sauce, and the Kua Kling Lamb adorned with green beans and an aggressive dry curry sauce that we ordered on this particular night.
I gamely played with the fire in these curry dishes – I was surprisingly nonplussed by the heat lingering within the muddy, sweet curry sauce that coats the stir-fried chicken and green beans, and couldn’t help sneaking a couple more bites of the lamb, even after the potent turmeric rub nearly eradicated all sensation in my mouth.
And, I even found myself undeniably dismayed to see the last pieces of the lightly fried, jerky-like Crying Tiger Pork disappear from our shared plate. Dipped into the accompanying chili sauce, the squiggles of pork are as addicting as a big bowl of tortilla chips and salsa. I could easily have snacked on the dish all night.
Yet even with all these culinary delights and the authentic Southern Thai specialties that I can’t find at the average Thai dive around the corner, I still wanted more of the illicit Pad Thai. It lingered in my mind like the heat from the Kua Kling Lamb lingered on my parched tongue. Because even though I’ve found room on my palate for escargot, pork neck, and even the occasional bite of steak tartare, I still have appreciation for the starter dishes that brought me haltingly into the glorious world of ethnic cuisine – spicy tuna rolls, ground beef tacos with neon orange cheddar cheese, and the sticky sweet goodness of Pad Thai.
Jitlada Thai Restaurant
5233 1/2 West Sunset Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90027-5709