Prologue: this post originiated prior to Nov 9, 2010 but was never completed. After pounding the broken asphalt of a few Thailand towns, I “feel” like I have a better understanding of Pailin’s game. No claims of David Thompson-esque understanding of Thai food are being made here, though during those days in Thailand, my mind was proverbially blown over and over. The impressions made by the markets in both Ubon and Chiang Mai were so intoxicating I have yet to taste any Thai food since landing in LAX on Dec 9th. (I’m striking the recent meal at Wat Dong Moon Lek Noodle off the record — the place is a farce and an insult to every noodle shanty in Thailand.)
Chiang Mai Kad Luang Market’s busiest nam prik noom stand. Yup, you can get both the forced meat and the green stuff at Pailin:
Pailin is real.
While thousands of diners may have combed through various items in the Issan menu (FWIW, chef’s wife is actually from the Northern Thailand, not from the North East), few bother to explorer the brief “Thai menu” near the kitchen window. How do I know? The Thai menu hardly changes, yet the kitchen repertoire runs deep. If you ask it, they will cook.
Some of the items you’ll find on the whiteboard (translated based on above board, does sometime rotate, but very slloooowly):
1. Fried larp balls
Larp is a poor man’s tartare. In Issan, all forms of larp (mostly pork) are eaten with balls of sticky rice. Larp sold in morning markets is often purchased for dinner. Thais apparently have safer meat source than Americans because larp is nothing but lime cooked animal protein. Here at Pailin, larp is formed into misshaped balls and flashed fried into a dish of new nuances. Nowhere else will you find these Northern Thai dish in Los Angeles (though the natives do not actually seem to cook these in actual ball form). These balls offer multi-texture, multi flavor meaty goodness that is found nowhere else in the city of Los Angeles. Yes, that is a challenge – find more sophisticated, yet rustic, edible balls in LA. Does not exist.
2. hoy jiao.. Dried pork wrap w/ tofu
3. soft shell crab, curry garlic,
4. fried sour pork ribs, nam see krong. Fermented for 3 days:
This is 1 of my favorite Issan dishes & can be used as a benchmark. Excellent chew, not too sour, but deeply flavorful. It’s wet aged pork. Unlike other shops in LA, no souring agent is used. The pork is fermented for at least 3 days & they often do run out. Look for this and be slightly shocked by pork gone bad, on purpose.
Other highlights oft missed:
hanformed fishball Issan “kang” (wet non-coconut milk curry) with Thai eggplant tastes some kind of exotic, fried chitlin (below right), soop nor mai (Issan bamboo salad topped with ground roasted rice) – here a recipe found at Morsels & Musings, a very pleasant khao kluk kapi (shrimp pasted fried rice) which can serve as a whole meal in of itself, and the all important Issan sausage (sai krok Issan seen below left). Here it’s hand stuffed, and not from LAX-C. How many Thai joints are still stuffing their own sour sausages with fermented rice in LA? No need to use more than 1 hand for the count.
Despite the housemade goodness, Pailin hasn’t raised prices faster than the pace of inflation. Food here is cheap, because the Thais demand this. Yet dishes are portioned well (more Udon, less Texas) with no short cuts, service is homely, speed brisk. This place can do no wrong with its continuous lunch to dinner hours and BYOB. This is easily one of the best Thai restaurants in LA.
NB: some of those reading will be lucky enough to sample Pailin’s Issan/Northern items on an upcoming Sunday. Yay for you!
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