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Lotus of Siam - A Delicious Value for Food and Wine in Las Vegas

Over the years, as the Las Vegas restaurant scene has changed, so have the wine lists. Steakhouses, with their big collections of full-bodied reds, have been joined by countless authentic French, Italian and Asian restaurants which call for different directions in wine. And, whereas the wine lists used to be heavily-weighted toward trophy wines for the expense account crowd, many restaurants now offer very good selections of excellent yet affordable wines. That said, since the typical markup in Las Vegas restaurants is 3x retail, most wines on the better lists come in at or above $100 per bottle. By the glass is certainly an option, but expect to pay at least $15 for something decent. Moving “off the Strip” can get you better prices, but there is usually — but not always — a corresponding drop in quality.

Perhaps the best off-the-Strip option in Las Vegas is Lotus of Siam. Nearly every big city in the United States has a restaurant called “Lotus of Siam.” Few, if any, hold a candle to the one in Las Vegas. It is a destination restaurant, though not because of a famous chef, beautiful decor or a see-and-be-seen aura. Frankly, it doesn’t have any of that. It’s hidden away in a very quiet strip mall that was nearly vacant last Friday night and it’s table settings are paper place mats, not white linen. What this Lotus of Siam does have is the best Thai food I’ve ever eaten, very reasonable prices and a tremendous wine list. The list is strongest in Riesling, particularly German, since those wines go so well with the food. However, there are hundreds of other wines available, including many from California.

The Wine
Lotus of Siam offers roughly thirty wines by the glass. Most of them are stored in an auto-dispensing system with gas to keep the wine fresh. While a couple by-the-glass choices at Lotus of Siam aren’t much of a surprise, such as 2007 Kendalll-Jackson Chardonnay ($6.50), most are. Among the reds are the delicious 2007 Siduri Keefer Ranch Pinot Noir ($17) and 2006 Showket Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon ($19). There’s also old vine Grenache from Minervois ($14), Cabernet Franc from Chinon ($14) and a Brunello di Montalcino ($14). The most expensive glass is the 2007 Domaine de Marcoux Chateauneuf-du-Pape ($22) — an excellent wine with a release price of $71 per bottle. There are nearly twenty half-bottles available too, including offerings from Spring Mountain Vineyard, Pride Mountain, Storybook Mountain, Parallel and Viader. At just $22, the Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant 2004 is an excellent choice for the budget-conscious.

The list of full-sized bottles at Lotus of Siam runs 41 pages. It is full of icons, such as 1990 Krug Brut Champagne which is reasonably priced at $350, but also nice surprises such as the 2004 Gruet Blanc de Blancs, New Mexico ($40). If the gaming tables are very good to you, you might spring for the 2000 Lafite Rothschild ($1050). But the smart money is on 2005 Pontet-Canet ($150) or 2005 Clos du Marquis ($95). There are three pages of fine red Burgundy and verticals of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, such as Le Vieux Donjon, Clos des Papes, Chateau de Beaucastel and Domaine du Pegau.

The list of California reds is extensive and tends toward toward big names and full-body: Colgin Estate, Turley, Shafer Hillside Select, Sine Qua Non, Carter, etc. However, there are plenty of wines that tend to be more delicate in style such as Pinot Noir from Mount Eden, Calera, Sand Hill Durell Vineyard (now Dunstan) and Littorai. The most expensive California red on the list is a 2001 Harlan Estate ($795) but the majority of wines are substantially less. The Talbott Sleepy Hollow Vineyard Pinot Noir is a nice bottle and just $35. There are a few good back vintages too, like the 1993 Ridge Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon ($175).

The list of California whites is much shorter, less than a page. It also offers good options though, from 2008 Handley Pinot Gris Anderson Valley ($30) to Alban Estate Roussanne ($60) and 2004 Mount Eden Estate Chardonnay ($68) on up to 2006 Kongsgaard “The Judge” Chardonnay ($235).

We had gone to Lotus of Siam for Thai food and German Riesling though, so that’s what we ordered. We tried two wines there: 2007 Jos. Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Kabinett ($55) and then the 2008 Egon Muller Scharhofberger Kabinett ($75). Both wines were very good, the latter being just off-dry with more mineral, green apple and citrus. The Prum was substantially sweeter with more body and a lot of tangy stone fruit and floral notes. I thought it to be the best of the two. Both went very well with the food, though I would recommend the Jos. Prum over the Muller with rich curries and spicy dishes. In retrospect, it would have been interesting to try the Jos. Prum side by side with the 2007 Dr. Loosen Wehlener Sonnenuhr ($42). Oh well.

The Food
While not as long as the wine list, the menu is also extensive. There are nearly 150 main dishes to choose from. We tried quite a few things. Our favorite starter was Moo Dad Deaw ($8.95) which the menu describes as a Thai-style pork jerky. Essentially, it’s thoroughly marinated strips of pork that are quickly deep fried and served with a slightly spicy sauce. It was chewy, yet somehow still tender, and very flavorful. The sauce was nice, but not entirely necessary.

One of the specialties at Lotus of Siam is Northern Thai cuisine. We tried two of those dishes. The Sai Qua (Northern-Style sausage, $8.95) was very good. It comes one to an order, grilled and cut into quarter-inch thick slices on the bias. It’s a pork sausage with herbs and spices. It was a bit dry, but had great flavor. Think of the rich, slightly sweet, red sauce from really good Pad Thai blended with pork and stuffed into a sausage casing.

The Kang-ka-Noon (spicy jack fruit curry, $9.95) was good, but less exciting than some of the other dishes. The flavor and texture of young jack fruit is similar to that of artichoke heart. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it is subtle and the curry broth was thin and soupy rather than thick and rich. The other dishes were bursting with flavor and the Kang-ka-Noon was simply overwhelmed.

One of those more powerful items was the Crispy Duck with Chu-Chee (Thai red curry sauce, $19.95). There was more crispy duck skin than duck meat, but that didn’t disappoint most of us. While duck skin isn’t diet food, it’s packed with flavor. One of my dinner partners found the meat a bit too fatty; for the rest of us it was just ducky. And we all loved the creamy red curry sauce. It was a perfect complement to the duck, was nicely off-set by the wine and, if there had been more sauce, we would have been eating it with a spoon.

The standout dish of the night was Sea Bass Som Thum (sea bass with Thai papaya salad, $23.95, pictured above). The salad was very good: fresh, crisp and with the sweet, savory, tangy, spicy dressing that Thai salads are known for. The sea bass itself was ridiculous. Almost two inches thick and cooked through, yet extremely moist — almost creamy. It was so sweet, flavorful and obviously fresh that I wouldn’t have been surprised to see a fisherman leaving through the back door.

There a lot of great restaurants in Las Vegas. The day after our visit to Lotus of Siam we ate at Pierre Gagniere’s Twist in the new Mandarin Oriental Hotel. But you don’t need to go all out like that to have a tremendous food and wine experience. If you like Thai food, or are willing to give it another try, head over to Lotus of Siam.

Lotus of Siam is located at 953 E. Sahara Ave., Suite A5, Las Vegas, NV 89104 - (707) 735-3033. They are open for lunch on weekdays only, from 11:30 to 2:00. Dinner is available daily from 5:30 to 9:30 (until 10:00 on Friday and Saturday). Dinner reservations are recommended. Dress is casual.

We paid full price for our meal and wine and were not compensated in any way by the restaurant for this article.

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This article is original to Copyright 2010 NorCal Wine. Photo courtesy of Lotus of Siam, Las Vegas. All rights reserved.