Friday, May 6, 2011

Foodie Girls Lunch Brigade - Episode 24

That Sam I Am.
That Sam I Am.
I do not like that Sam I Am.

-- Dr. Seuss

That Bua Siam.
That Bua Siam.
We really like that Bua Siam.

-- The Foodie Girls

Episode 24 - We would eat this Here or There.  We would eat this Anywhere.

After a too-long hiatus, where were were forced to dine in the company of spouses, children, in-laws, workmates and random people at the Sherman Oaks In N Out* for several months, the FG's were reunited this week. And it felt so good.  Five of us converged on a nondescript strip mall in at the intersection of Sherman Way and Coldwater Canyon, deep in the flats of the Valley. Bua Siam beckoned.

Well, not exactly beckoned. The place is not much to look at from the outside.

Somehow knowing that we could get a dental implant, should things go terribly wrong, was not the comfort it should have been.  But we did have FG14's fervent endorsement that this was her favorite Thai place in town, and if my one dinner here was any indication, the woman was definitely onto something**.

The first indication came as soon as we opened the door. The dusty chaos of the neighborhood was gone, and we were in a quiet oasis of clean white walls, hung with small, framed photos of colorful Thai landscapes. Simple blond wood tables with tiny flowering plants, a chalkboard hung with the day's specials, and light streaming into the room brought an immediate sense of calm and anticipation.  Before you even sat down, it felt like you never wanted to leave.

The menu, full of delectable sounding choices, was both exciting and daunting, particularly since we were all starving and "one of everything" was just not practical***.  Fortunately, I was armed with a cheat sheet from FG14, and the group soon agreed to pretty much order everything on her list. Papaya salad with crispy catfish. Crab meat fried rice. Fried Tofu. Spicy noodles with beef and peppers, and Chinese broccoli with chilis.  

The fried rice arrived first.  Note the generous chunks of fresh lump crabmeat in this photo, and you'll have some sense of the richness of this dish. If you are a crab lover, you will literally swoon over this at first bite.  Moist, with just a few little caramelized bits, it's studded with a lovely combination of that sweet crabmeat, tangy scallions, eggs, and perfectly cooked rice.  It was a little too salty for some, but I ate every last bit on my plate.

The fried tofu plate arrived next, with billowy, perfectly golden pillows of the lightest-textured tofu I'd ever tasted.  It must have been flash fried incredibly quickly, as each bite almost melted in your mouth, without any trace of greasy flavor or oily taste.  The bright red dipping sauce was sour and sweet, laced with a few herbs and some finely ground peanuts, for crunch.  Heavenly!  Like the fried rice (and the rest of the plates here), the portion size was beyond generous, more than enough for five hungry FG's to eat their fill.

We'd ordered the beef flat noodles "medium" spicy. Reaching for her water glass and fanning her hand in front of her mouth, FG6 wheezed the question that was on all of our minds. "This is medium?"  A minute later she went back for more. So did I. The noodles, like the rice, were a great combination of slightly crispy pan-fried parts and soft, chewy parts, in a sauce that managed to be both light and satisfyingly hearty at the same time.  The beef could have been more tender, but the flavors were all there, and the colorful peppers and greens were perfectly crisp-tender and utterly delicious.

We doubled down on the Chinese broccoli, and were so glad we did! Starring in it's own dish, the vegetable was one of our collective favorites. Like the other things we ordered, the flavor and freshness of the main ingredient just shone through, enhanced, instead of dominated, by the delicate oyster sauce.  

And now, take a look at the papaya salad.

No, I didn't accidentally put in a shot of a giant loofa.  That's the crispy catfish!!  The people who fry things here are magicians, I kid you not. This airy miracle is shatteringly crisp, again without a lick of greasy flavor, only faintly fishy, and so much fun to eat. Underneath is a tangy, spicy version of green papaya salad, with that great balance of vinegar and sugar, slippery, cool, noodle-like papaya, chili flakes and roasted peanuts.  Putting that together with the crunchy fish topping makes each bite better than the next.  Like the noodles, "medium" here is nothing to mess with, but who cares. It's amazing. Go there.  Order this.

In between "mmm"s and "ooh"s and "pass the broccoli"s, we caught up, laughed a lot, and thoroughly relaxed.   We cleaned our plates and ordered dessert****, although we were full.  When the bill came, the crew was astonished at the final tab (it was low!), and the time (it was late!).

As a FG reunion, we couldn't have asked for a better lunch.

FG Final Verdict:  Bua Siam is ON the list!
Pricing Information:  Most dishes $8-10, lunch specials $4.99, our cost per person, including tax and tip, was $13.
FG Value Rating:  A steal!!

* OK, it was just me at In N Out.  I didn't see any of my fellow FG's there.   They were probably at the gym or pilates or something.
** A few hours before the outing, she'd called, dejected, to let me know that she'd be missing lunch because of work.  She proceeded to give me a full list of dishes to order, had me read the list back, and was texting recommendations in real-time as we looked at the menu. What a shining example of true FG dedication!
*** The two non-meat eaters in the group were particularly happy with the variety of options available. Got vegetarian friends?  Go for Thai food!
**** Fried bananas with ice cream, and roti (pancakes) with sweetened condensed milk. Neither were as memorable as the main courses, and the odd coconut ice cream that came with the bananas has real detractors.  That said, there were no leftovers.

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