It is a joy to be in Thai in L.A. That's the name of a restaurant in downtown Glendale.
Thai it may be, but it looks, for all the fresh orchids on the tables, spare and austere--almost Japanese.
Happily, the food is anything but austere. The beautifully blackened char-grilled beef satay is tender, flavorful flank steak, for instance. The crab rolls--bite-size puffs of crab meat deep-fried in rice paper skins--literally melt in your mouth.
The bilingual waiters bring dishes to the table as fast as I've had them delivered anywhere. Incredibly, though, everything tastes freshly made.
There are excellent soups, such as tom kha gai (spelled tom ka kai here), a creamy coconut milk and chicken soup with a touch of the ginger-like spice galangal, and tom yum goong, a complex, lemony broth rich with shrimp, mushroom and lemon grass.
Larb is ground chicken mixed with mint leaves, onions, roasted rice and a blistering chile-lime sauce. You're supposed to eat it rolled up in cabbage leaves. Another Thai passion is barbecued chicken, and Thai in L.A.'s recipe rivals any I've ever had. The smoky meat is moist and tender, the crisp skin is redolent of ginger, coriander and turmeric--and the portion is a huge half-chicken.
Among the 80-plus items on the menu is the wondrous soft-shell crab with chile sauce (#56): two lightly fried crabs flanked by roasted peppers and topped with a delicate but penetrating red sauce. There is a terrific duck dish called ped gra pow, chunks of roast duck sauteed with chiles, onions, bell peppers and basil. For something milder, try kung-ob (#51), which is prawns cooked in a clay pot with vegetables and glass noodles.
Noodles are also treated with proper reverence. Ask for lard na and you'll get glass noodles with broccoli, gravy and a choice of meat. One of my favorite noodle dishes is #57, pad see you, stir-fried rice noodles (wider than the ones used to make pad Thai) mixed with scrambled egg, broccoli, tofu and a good deal of dark soy sauce. And yes, there is an exemplary pad Thai, generous with the chicken and shrimp and not too sweet.
Have a tall, refreshing glass of Thai lemonade to wash things down--it's really a sweet, exotically flavored limeade. The one dessert of note is sweet sticky rice drizzled with coconut cream, accompanied by slices of ripe mango. It's just like a dessert you'd get in the center of Bangkok, and the perfect way to end a meal for an American in L.A.
Thai in L.A., 303 1/2 Brand Blvd., Glendale. Open 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 11:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday; noon-9:30 p.m. Sunday. Street parking. Beer and wine only. All major credit cards. Dinner for two, $18-$33. Suggested dishes: beef satay, $5.95; crab rolls, $6.95; Thai barbecued chicken, $6.25; soft-shell crab with chili sauce, $9.95; pad see you, $5.95. Call (818) 548-3539.