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Restaurant Diary: Tears and beers at Jitlada

December 6, 2011 |  6:00 am

Jitlada
At 11:30 p.m. on Sunday I found myself at Jitlada, the famous Thai restaurant in a Sunset Boulevard strip mall, with a foodie friend named Brandt Shandera who had just flown in from New York City. Our plates were piled high with pale green curry and seafood-fried rice speckled with fat prawns the size of our fists. 

In small bowls we had ladled out rich brown lamb jungle curry. After several bites of this fragrant dish we looked at each other through eyes filled with reluctant tears. Our noses were running, our cheeks red. We kept reaching for a bowl of crushed ice filled with carrot slices and cabbage that our server had set down beside the curry.

"For the heat, if it becomes too much," she had said, smiling. We looked at each other and smirked. We were spice masters. Not so much, it turns out. Brandt quickly developed what he called "heat hiccups," and said that he could no longer feel his hands. A bad sign to be sure.

I kept chugging my beer and became disconsolate that the restaurant used cloth napkins because they were no good for wiping my nose.

The night began innocently enough. We had traipsed around Hollywood, and Brandt had taken me to an area called High Tower, which has a really cool elevator that looks a bit like an Italian clock tower. It was built by Carl Kay in the 1930s and lifts residents to gorgeous apartments high in the hills. Little walk streets, old street lamps and secretive staircases wind through the neighborhood, affording flaneurs stunning views of Hollywood.

Fresh off the high of this adventure we were ready for more of the same, so when our server at Jitlada (who had kindly let us in after the restaurant had closed for reasons that were unknown to us but had something to do with the birthday of the Thai king) asked us if we wanted the best southern Thai specialties, we said yes.

Jitlada is known for its spicy southern fare, and I have eaten there plenty of times. But I've never had the jungle curry. "Never order anything with 'jungle' in it," said one Thai employee while sweeping the floor beside our table and laughing at us. "Even I can't handle that sometimes."

We smiled through our tears as our server placed an unasked-for glass of Thai iced tea in front of Brandt.

"This will cool you," she said rather maternally. "You should have said that you can't take the heat."

Next time, Jitlada, next time.

Jitlada, 5233 West Sunset Blvd., L.A. (323) 663-3104. www.jitladala.com

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Photo: Phangga Jungle Curry with Pork Ribs and Thai Eggplant. Credit:  JoAnn Stougaard

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