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EATS: Restaurant Reviews and News | COUNTER INTELLIGENCE

Top-Notch Thai

Specialty dishes and unusual items elevate Rosalynn Thai above the crowd.

April 16, 1998|CHARLES PERRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

We fell for Thai food around here 25 years ago; fell hard. As a result, we have hundreds of Thai restaurants in the Southland. And we figure we can drop in at any of them for a good old fix of sate, mee krob and chicken panaeng.

But some Thai places are distinctly above average, and one is Rosalynn Thai, a minuscule sugar cube of a building near the corner of Lincoln and Venice boulevards. Its new owner is going all the extra miles. Besides a 76-item menu with some unusual dishes, she has a blackboard menu of seasonal items. She raises some of her own herbs, vegetables and even spices.

The first item on the menu is krathongtong, a dainty, almost frivolous appetizer of crunchy little pastry cups with a light, spicy filling of shrimp, corn, chicken, peanuts and cucumbers. If you order them delivered (Rosalynn delivers within a three-mile radius), the filling is packaged separately, lest the crisp little cups get soggy on the way.

Another of the house specialties, spicy scallops, is notable not only for plump scallops but their sweet, mildly spicy sauce. With its clear red color and hint of peanut flavor, it's a sauce of irresistible childlike charm. (Most things are mildly spiced here, but if you ask for a dish hot, they take you very much at your word.)

On the blackboard you may find papaya salad, a tart hot-weather refreshment of shredded green papaya with shrimp, peppers and fish sauce. But I really prefer the duck salad, made with bits of duck meat redolent of ginger and star anise tossed with lettuce, all in a snappy chile and lime dressing.

Most of the entrees I've had were terrific. A shrimp curry, its rich sweet-sour coconut sauce refreshingly cut with mint. Overpowering barbecued pork ribs with a sweet crust ("glaze" doesn't begin to describe it) of honey, star anise and herbs. Great noodle dishes, such as lard nah--broad noodles of a particularly luscious texture mixed with chicken and broccoli in a sweet bean sauce. The pad see yew is much the same, except for having less sauce and featuring beef instead of chicken. Make that lots and lots of beef.

Flaming chicken is a relatively subtle dish, and not only for the mild sauce with its hint of rice wine. How often do you have a dish that's flamed in the kitchen, rather than showily fired up before you at the table?

But table service is virtually automatic with some dishes. The most expensive item on the menu, ginger fish, is a whole fried pompano topped with ground pork, tomatoes and mild peppers. If the owner herself is in the kitchen (and the food is a distinct notch better when she is), she may volunteer to come out and debone the fish at the table, something she can manage without turning the fish over. This is one of the Asian dishes where you can safely eat the smaller fish bones.

These are the dishes that have stood out when I've eaten at Rosalynn Thai. A few were more commonplace. Not that that's necessarily a criticism--the fact that most Thai restaurants can make a decent tom kha gai doesn't make it anything less than a wildly perfumy soup.

But I must admit the chicken wings stuffed with transparent noodles are on the tame side (as usual), and a bland dish like yum woon sen will not seem like much alongside, say, the spicy scallops. And the crispy tofu is watery inside and not likely to convert anyone who is neutral on the tofu issue. But this is a place where you're often surprised by how good something is. The chicken sate, for instance, is remarkably succulent, not at all dried out, and its orange-ginger marinade is so good you could easily do without the peanut dipping sauce.

This place puts more effort into dessert than most Thai restaurants. The owner makes her own soy-based nondairy ice creams, and the ginger ice cream is a seriously spicy model--the Vernor's Ginger Ale of ginger ice creams. There are fruit flavors as well, including durian (the ice cream does not have the notorious durian stink, only an attractive tropical fruit flavor).

Sticky rice with mango is exotic--tart rice with a few toasted sesame seeds, a bit odd by itself but an excellent foil for the sweet mango slices. Sliced acorn squash has a filling of coconut-flavored custard, and you can eat the whole thing, peel and all.

Thai food has been available in L.A. so long we can almost forget how vivid and original it seemed at first. Rosalynn Thai reminds me.

BE THERE

Rosalynn Thai Restaurant, 2308 Lincoln Blvd., Venice; (310) 397-2647. Open 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 3-10 p.m. Sunday. Beer and wine. Tiny parking lot. All major credit cards. Dinner for two, food only, $23-$48.

What to Get: krathongtong, spicy scallops, duck salad, pad see yew, shrimp curry, squash with custard, ginger ice cream.

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