Thursday, May 24, 2007
The weather is finally hot here in Syracuse. Not pleasantly warm or spring-like, but HOT. And I like nothing more on a hot, humid, tropical day than some fine Southeast Asian food. Vietnamese, Thai, and Laotian cuisines all share in common a masterful blending of fragrant and complementary ingredients that add up to a sum greater than their parts. One sniff of Thai basil or fresh mint is enough to transport me to some of my favorite meals and memories. When we lived in New York City, Daiku and I enjoyed walking down to Chinatown on the hottest of days and stepping in to random small restaurants and enjoying some cooling, refreshing food and drinks.
Fortunately, we can do that in Syracuse too. There are a few Thai and Vietnamese restaurants, but our favorite is Lao Village, a small and friendly restaurant specializing in Laotian and Thai cuisines. (Click here to see their menu). They feature a large selection of vegetarian dishes, and their daily specials always feature at least a few vegetable, tofu, and seitan options.
Last Saturday, we went to Lao Village to celebrate the end of the school year. Starting off with appetizers, we had:
Curry puffs with a sweet chili dipping sauce. These reminded me of samosas with their savory curry filling, but the dipping sauce added a tantalizing twist to the experience.
We also had a summer roll, which combined the flavors of noodles, tofu, cilantro, and bean sprouts in a cooling rice paper package. The dipping sauce for the summer roll was simple but divine. In fact, it tasted so complex and layered, that I started freaking out that it might have fish sauce in it. Our server assured us that it had no fish sauce, and was totally vegetarian, so now I am on the quest to re-create the perfect summer roll dipping sauce at home.
In an unusual move, especially after having 2 appetizers, Daiku and I both ordered full entrees. And are we glad we did!
I had the kha noom jeen (veggie), which was noodles topped with two kinds of tofu, sprouts, vegetables, mint and cilantro with a panang curry sauce served on a bed of lettus. Flavorful, crunchy, summer perfection.
Daiku went for the panang curry with pineapple, which he asked to be made extra spicy. This was served with a side of rice, and was incredibly colorful and flavorful. The pineapple was the best foil for the heady curry and the spicy peppers, and of course the fresh basil brought everything to a new level.
Surely we thought, upon ordering 2 entrees, that we would have some leftovers to take home? Wrong again- before we knew it, we had slurped up all of our food. We must have been in some sort of food-induced coma, because when our server asked us if we wanted the dessert special, we... said yes!
Dessert was a simple rendition of this popular dish: sticky rice (we were asked to choose between white and purple, and went for purple), perfectly ripe mango, sweetened coconut milk, and sesame seeds, all served warm. Once again, Daiku and I thought, there is no way we could get through this starchy, carby dessert after everything we've eaten. Once again, we were wrong. We finished up every last bite of the dessert (somewhere in the back of the restaurant, the staff was either horrified or highly amused by our gluttony).
All this, plus tip, cost less than $28. The restaurant provided us with free bottled water, which they refilled without our having to ask for it. They were also very good about offering us extra rice, which most other restaurants in our experience do not do. Over all, Lao Village is a friendly place with a real neighborhood vibe, which is a plus in downtown Syracuse. And the masterfully prepared food fit the bill on a tropical almost-summer day.
208 West Genesee St.
Syracuse, NY 13202
After you eat here, and especially as you are likelly to over-indulge like we did, you can walk around Clinton Square in downtown Syracuse, which, having shaken off the snow and gloom of winter, is looking downright lovely right about now.