These days, as lazy as I am, it takes something like big black Cox (that’s Carl Cox for the un-electronified) to get me to drive aaaaall the way to Hollywood. When it came right down to it, gluttony beat out glamour anyway and I didn’t even make it out for Cox.
It’s not the driving distance, fewer than 10 miles from the Westside, that I despise. It’s the driving time. It causes me extreme psychological pain. Online mapping tools calculate the mileage accurately, but assume I drive a hovercraft that can float above traffic crawling along Wilshire Boulevard and up Highland Avenue making the drive-time a mere 18 minutes. Eighteen minutes?!?! It takes at least 20 minutes to get through Westwood alone. Eighteen minutes. When it’s all said and done, my garage to the parking lot, it’s been a good roadrageous 40 minutes. Yes, to go all of 9.4 miles. It’s so illogical and inefficient it hurts my brain. 14.1 miles per hour. And trust me, it’s not because I don’t like Hollywood either. I pretty much try to avoid driving 9.4 miles in any direction from where I live.
The point here is that it has got to be something pretty damn good to get me to drive out to Hollywood, musically or gastronomically.
Todd asked me, “Let’s go to Palms Thai.”
I’m silent. Todd is a very good friend of mine, so I have to wonder why he would suggest Thai food. He should know how I feel about Thai. I certainly know how he feels about cucumbers.
Todd appends his suggestion with “In Hollywood.”
Okay, Todd must have accidentally eaten some magic mushrooms and gotten me confused with the many other Asian girls he hangs out with.
Todd doesn’t flinch and concludes “With the Thai Elvis.”
I knew it! I knew there had to be something impishly delicious stewing in that golden ramen-covered head of Todd’s. Thai Elvis at Palms Thai. I knew it I knew it I knew it. It’s going to take at the very least, 45 minutes to get there, and more than likely, there’s going to be a slightly long-ish wait, and all that just for Thai food! *sigh* But I didn’t care anymore.
A Thai man impersonating Elvis. How could I refuse?
Palms Thai used to be located in small strip mall in Thai Town, a strip of Hollywood Boulevard a few blocks further east of its current location at Bronson. The restaurant had to move in order to make more room for its ever increasing fan base.
Todd and I careened to a stop in front of the valet stand in the parking garage behind the restaurant well past the appointed time with our Twinkiesis. She would have been sitting there waiting for us by herself alone for almost twenty minutes. When we burst through the rear entrance from the parking garage, Elvis was going full force. I stopped a moment next to the stage to drink in my first sight and sound of the Thai Elvis. Todd pulled me toward the bar in the back to find Twinkie.
Palms Thai is a long, high, rectangular box that, instead of extending deeply backwards from the entrance, spans widely across the Hollywood Boulevard-facing storefront sideways. We had entered through what appeared to be a back door, but was just stage-left of Thai Elvis, who was lovingly reaching out his right arm, crooning I Can’t Help Falling in Love With You. The real front door from the street is on the opposite side of the stage, stage right, and the rest of the restaurant extends long and away from the front of the stage.
One might think that Palms Thai would feel like a dark, sexy Vegas lounge with Elvis twisting on the mainstage. However, the restaurant has no sort of describable ambience at all. The dining room is brightly lit from overhead, and instead of individual tables, rectangular tables are placed end to end that extend in several very long rows aways from the stage, creating cafeteria-style seating. It feels like the Activities Committee took over the auditorium for the junior high talent show, carried tables in from the cafeteria for the pre-show parents’ dinner, and brought in a little rented riser as a stage for the opening act by their math teacher dressed up as Elvis, in a ‘50s bouffant pompadour complete with sideburns (I actually could not tell if it was a wig or the real thing), sunglasses, and rhinestone studded bell-bottoms, sounding remarkably like the original. Not that I could really make a good judgement over all the chaotic conversation and dinner din. The place is almost as loud as Sam Woo at high noon on a Saturday.
We were seated next to two pale, pretty, rail-thin boys with mussed-on-purpose hair and very Fred Segal clothing. They were too nicely done up to just be best friends out to grab a bite to eat, but they couldn’t have been lovers on a date because each one was reading a different magazine. They’d only look up and interact to show each other an article or picture in his own magazine. I tried to gauge what might be good to order by looking at the food on the table between them, but everything looked untouched. Boys.
Neither the Twinkiesis nor I had ever eaten at Palms Thai, so we left most of the ordering to Todd, who said the Angel Wings were a must-have to start. Angel Wings are chicken wings that have been de-boned except for a small piece left as a “handle,” over-stuffed with chopped vegetables, chicken meat, and thin, transparent noodles, then deep-fried. The wings are so huge that the two on the plate are cut into smaller pieces, enough to serve three normal people as appetizers quite sufficiently, but as deliciously crisp and sweet as they were dipped in the accompanying sauce, I could have eaten the whole plate by myself.
The rest of the regular dinner menu looks and sounds much like menus at other Thai restaurants with the exception of the last page called Wild Things. The one glass of wine I had only gotten halfway through wasn’t enough to give me the courage to order Deer with Green Peppercorn in Curry Sauce, Frog with Chili and Holy Basil, Wild Boar, or Sp
icy Chicken Feet Salad. Quail, whole fish, a few raw beef and seafood items on the Wild Things menu seemed fairly tame, but I didn’t need to find out what had been done to them to make them wild. We stuck with the more traditional Thai menu items.
One note about the menu itself is that much more of the menu is witten and described in English. Obviously, I don’t expect to be given a menu written in the Thai language, but I’m more accustomed to dishes having the English-ized version of the Thai name, like Tom Yum Gai, insteadof Spicy Chicken Soup. Certainly, very popular or well-know Thai dishes like Pad Thai and Pad See Ew are named as such, but the majority of Palms Thai’s menu is simply numbered and given a long, descriptive name in English, like Deep Fried Whole Fish with Chili Garlic Sauce. That’s Number 98.
We ordered Fried Tofu from the Appetizers section, then Spicy Beef Fried Rice, Deep Fried Trout with Mango Sauce, and added Chicken Noodles to make our meal a well-rounded one. Well-rounded? Every single dish had the word “fried” in its name except the Chicken Noodles, which were described underneath as “pan fried.” Even the Angel Wings we had started with were deep-fried. Okay, so dinner was well-rounded only in terms of variation in ingredients – rice, noodles, beef, chicken, fish, and tofu. *eh* Close enough.
Deep Fried Tofu was nothing like I had tasted before. I’ve had fried tofu before, but it has always been pan-fried. I couldn’t tell if the 1-inch cubes of tofu had been lightly breaded before deep frying to a golden tan, or if the surface of tofu simply crisps like it had in the deep fryer. I was snatching the crispy cubes off the plate, scooping up chili sauce because i preferred it to the accompanying peanut garnished sauce, then shoving them into my mouth too quickly before I could make a careful examination. I was eating them as if I had been fasting for four days. I don’t know why they tasted so good to me, since tofu is fairly bland, but so are potatoes, and really now, do I even have to state the obvious here? French fries. I guess I do. :)
The Chicken Noodle dish was made with familiar wide, flat rice noodles, but they were tossed with very lightly sauteed bell peppers, tomatoes, chilies, and basil, so it had a much fresher taste than the regular heavily cooked rice noodles dishes I’ve had before. The dish was good, though the chicken was a little dry for how oily the whole dish was overall. Of course, there was basil in there, which I always find to be too overpowering, since I don’t favor the taste at all. Chopsticks are perfect for plucking those nasty weeds right out and onto the edge of my plate.
Spicy Beef Fried Rice looks much darker and browner than fried rice to which I am accustomed in Chinese restaurants. Perhaps it is the more liberal use of soy sauce that has made it darker, as well as much saltier. The rice is deceptively spicy, as I didn't expect any heat at all without the telltale red tint or red chili flakes. A nice warm heat most certainly came from fresh green chilies, though it still wasn't as fire-alarming as I love. In general, I prefer bread to both rice and noodles, but here at Palms Thai, I'd take the decently spicy rice to the somewhat oily noodles, though, and simply add more red chili sauce.
The most interesting dish of the night was the Deep Fried Trout with Mango Sauce. Trout fillets had been battered, deep-fried, and cut into pieces about three inches wide. I suspect that all deep-fried items at Palms Thai are dipped into the same bowl of batter, as the trout had the same crispy crunchy coating as the Angel Wings. However, the fish inside was cardboard. It was cut slightly thicker than paper thin, and overcooked to dry, hard in some places, and chewy in others. Perhaps the fish was meant to be cooked that way to accentuate the flavors and textures in the accompanying mango sauce. For some reason I had imagined the sauce as a heavily spiced puree of mango. Instead, it was a thin, sweetened vinegar and soy sauce with large slices of barely ripe mango, red onions, cashews, and a heavy dose of cilantro. Each of the components of the sauce was fine, but it was difficult to get a complete taste of the trout with the sauce. Either I just soaked the fish in the vinegar sauce, ending up with a soggy batter coating and defeating the purpose of a deep-fry, or I had to pick up a piece of the fish with a rather unwieldy piece of mango or onion and try to maneuver the whole thing into my mouth without leaving a sliver of mango or onion hanging like a lizard tail from my lower lip. Not very pretty. The sauce had excellent taste intentions, but just doesn't execute well, and the fish just falls limp overall. Then again, I've never had this dish before, and the thin, dry fish might have been prepared exactly as it should be. In that case, it's just simply a matter of preference. I prefer fish to be soft, moist, and flaky, unless of course, it's bacalao or dried anchovies or something.
The food at Palms Thai was good, but not great enough to bring me all the way out to Hollywood just for Thai food. If I'd like to venture where the Wild Things are, I'd have to make that 45 minute drive that feels like a veritable safari to Palms Thai. Otherwise, for my kindergarten appreciation of Thai food right now, I think I am okay with staying on the Westside. The only real reason, then, to drive that far to Hollywood, is for Elvis. Then again, I could just throw one of my Mom's old Elvis vinyls on the turntable and save myself the drive altogether.