The House of Kitti has nothing to do with felines. Kitti Suruchmoe is a cook and restaurateur whose "house" is a Thai restaurant on West 3rd Street at Normandie Avenue. One of four sites in a small shopping center, the restaurant gave so few clues to its identity when it first opened that I thought it was a beauty parlor. To end such confusion, a sign that says "Thai restaurant" has been posted in the window. And a corner signpost that serves as a directory to the shopping center announces "Thai Spicy." Some might take the "spicy" designation as a warning but others will regard it as reassurance that the food has a decent degree of seasoning.
And often it does. The dipping sauce for salted beef (neau tod dad deow) was hot almost beyond endurance. But the strips of chewy meat, which had been marinated, then roasted, then fried, had enough flavor without it. Jerky fans would love this dish, minus the sauce.
Catfish curry (gaeng ped pla duk) was also very, very hot, but milder seasoning would have destroyed its character. The rich coconut milk sauce included mint, basil, thin strips of laos root and vegetables, among them zucchini, which is an interesting, although not typical, addition to Thai curries.
Catfish turned up in another searing sauce, a dark, orange-tinged mixture with sweet overtones. The wonderful combination of tastes in this dish, which the menu translates as crispy catfish with sweet basil and hot pepper, made the pain induced by the chiles worthwhile.
The menu translations are sometimes freewheeling, as in the case of nam song kroeng, a salad described as slices of Chiang Mai sausage with ginger and hot pepper. Instead of sausage slices, the salad mixed crumbly meat with strips of pork skin, peanuts, cilantro and lettuce. Of course, the "sausage" was not made in Chiang Mai in the north of Thailand but in the restaurant. Quibbling aside, the salad was good--and very spicy.
Thais have their own version of pasta salad. An example is yam woonsen, a combination of bean threads, pork, mushrooms and shrimp, which the restaurant does very well. Thai salads, by the way, are ideal for dieters because the dressings contain no oil, concentrating instead on lime or lemon juice and chiles.
The House of Kitti lives up to its billing as "spicy," but there are milder dishes, too. The satay , lightly seasoned with curry powder, is a safe choice for an appetizer. Its sauce combines coconut milk, red curry paste, ground peanuts and sugar--a different formula from Javanese-style satay sauces, which are based on the sweetened soy sauce that is favored in Indonesia.
Fried minced pork on toast (ka-nohm pahng nah moo) is also easy on tender mouths. The toast, which is topped with a generous amount of cilantro as well as pork, comes with a sweet-sour cucumber relish and a garnish of deep-fried batter-coated vegetables.
Noodle dishes such as the omnipresent sticky-sweet mee krob are usually low in chiles or free of them. Kitti does an especially good job with pad see-ew (stir-fried noodles with meat and Chinese broccoli). Here the dish is not padded out with noodles but contains lots of meat and vegetables. Bits of fried garlic pep up the flavor.
An interesting choice for vegetable-lovers is stir-fried kangkong, a leafy green that is widely used in Southeast Asia. At Kitti, the kangkong comes with meat or shrimp in a sweet brown sauce that is very pleasing. The name of the dish is pad pak bung. Pad means stir-fried, and pak bung is the Thai name for kangkong.
The few flawed dishes--tough squid, heavy pompano and disappointing beef panang among them--were outweighed on each occasion by better food. Servings are generous and prices are reasonable. The satay and "sausage" salad are $4.99, but many dishes are $3.99, among them the crispy catfish, minced pork on toast, pad see-ew , the chewy jerky and the stir-fried kangkong.
The House of Kitti's blank exterior might deter a stop there. But inside, the restaurant is quite attractive, thanks to cool blue walls and an abundance of greenery, albeit artificial.
House of Kitti Thai restaurant, 3914 West 3rd St . , Los Angeles, (213) 387-6004. Open daily from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Cash only. Reservations accepted. Parking usually available in the shopping center lot.