As my boyfriend astutely noted, Thai food can unfortunately often taste cheap and oily. The truly superlative cuisine at Lotus of Siam, a Las Vegas transplant that recently opened in the vacated Cru space, is a refreshing change of pace from the mediocre Thai spots that pepper Manhattan. In fact, Lotus of Siam is pretty revelatory, 100% worthy of the praise I’m about to shower on it profusely.
The restaurant is mellow, set in the spacious former Cru space. Everything about it is muted: a neutral color scheme, chic yet minimalist pan-Asian decor, warm wooden furniture. The most striking thing about Lotus of Siam, other than the remarkable food, is the ultra-modern kitchen, hidden behind frosted glass sliding doors, that open elusively, offering peeks into the magic being made, as cooks shuffle around behind them. Early in the night, Lotus of Siam is almost eerily quiet, serene, detached from the bustle of New York University outside. As peak dining time rolls around, the noise intensifies, though never above a hum. The clientele seems to consist of curious foodies, tasting everything raved about by early reviewers, and families and couples from the neighborhood, embracing the newcomer warmly. It runs like a well-oiled machine, with seamless table service, friendly staff, and well-timed meal delivery; it’s hard to leave without remarking on what a wonderful dining experience it all was.
Perhaps though the best thing about Lotus of Siam is the completely authentic and outrageously delicious Thai cuisine. The menu is extensive, offering pages upon pages of regional specialties and well-known favorites. There is something for everyone between the salads, soups, curries, noodles, fried rice, stir fries, and the plethora of various appetizer and entree options; with such a cornucopia, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. To start, try the Northern Larb salad, a very spicy and succulent ‘salad’ of minced seasoned pork with a wedge of crisp and soothing Iceberg lettuce, or the Crispy Rice, a crunchy delight with Thai sausage, fresh chilis, peanuts, zesty lime, and ginger. Both dishes are hot and spicy, with a range of vibrant and classic Southeast Asian flavors. Interested in a something a little bit more basic? The crispy fried marinated shrimp is a guilty pleasure, served wrapped in bacon and deep fried in a crunchy spring roll wrapping; though I’m pretty sure this is in no way a traditional Thai dish, it’s just damn good.
It’s essential to get a Thai curry, and the red is my favorite – creamy and spicy, devoid of that cloying oily taste that haunts curries poorly made, and stuffed with texturally-fun shards of bamboo shoots. Green, yellow and massaman options are also offered, depending on your personal predilections. The Rad Na, with prawn, is also wonderful – flat rice noodles bursting with nutty flavor, served thick and luscious with yellow bean paste and fried garlic – a great option for noodle lovers. Perhaps the one dish not worthy of a gold star though is the Pineapple Curry Fried Rice with Yellow Curry; ultimately a limp rendition of fried rice, it just wasn’t flavorful enough to be interesting; the large chunks of pineapple were too sweet without any contrasting flavor note. When it’s all said and done though, the food at Lotus of Siam is just fantastic. You can taste the authenticity in its preparation, the care taken in its presentation.
It’s inevitable to compare Kin Shop and Lotus of Siam. Both are new press-hounded gourmet Thai restaurants opened a few short blocks from each other in the West Village. In trying them both within a week of each other, my vote is firmly with Lotus of Siam. Not only was the entire dining experience more relaxed and less chaotic at Lotus, but the food was also vastly superior than Kin Shop’s. Try them both if you’re curious, but the best option for authentic, fresh and high-quality Thai food in downtown Manhattan is, in my opinion, indisputably by the experienced Thai food restauranteurs behind Lotus of Siam. Bravo, to them, for bringing such wonder from a Las Vegas strip mall to the posh ‘Golden Mile’ on 5th Avenue South.
Perfect For: family dinners, Greenwich Village locals, Thai scholars and students