Tom Yum Guys!
New Rochelle is a little brighter with this vivid, authentic new Thai.
The prevailing foodie wisdom maintains that ethnic restaurants aren’t worth a damn unless they’re surrounded by a resident population of that ethnicity. The reason? You need neighborhood authorities in a cuisine to ensure quality. Otherwise, the restaurant is cooking for regulars who don’t know any better, and its standards are destined to be low.
So why is Red Lotus so good?
Unlike Woodside, Queens (whose large Thai population supports the Thai food mecca, Sripraphai),
Red Lotus’s ruby-and-emerald-painted dining room is a welcome respite from Route 1. Helpful staff are overseen by the sharp eye of Red Lotus’s owner, Jiraporn Kuldraree. In fact, we were so pleasantly greeted that I feared my reviewer’s cover was blown. (It wasn’t—Red Lotus treats everyone that way, as became clear during our four visits).
Starters are a mix of Thai standards and Red Lotus innovations. On our first night, we welcomed the arrival of tod mun pla (fish cakes), wonderfully chewy, fishy little medallions, subtly seasoned with chili and scallions. We also loved the tender, addictive beef satay. Gritty with mouthwatering spices and seared perfectly medium-rare, these juicy, very beefy steak skewers were irresistible.
Red Lotus excels at curries, none of which have the three-note tang of Americanized Thai (you know, that straight-from-the-can taste of coconut milk, acid, and chili). Instead, Red Lotus’s curries strike separate paths among the touchstone Thai notes of hot, sour, salty, and sweet. One of our favorites was the kang masamun, an aromatic coconut curry marked by a heady combination of spices. The masamun curry traditionally employs up to 20 ingredients in its mix, including cloves, star anise, cardamom, cinnamon, and coriander. All are detectable in Red Lotus’s haunting version, which comes in a hearty portion alongside jasmine rice. It’s a good thing Red Lotus’s portions are large—we would have fought for the leftovers. Very different is kang pah: sans coconut milk, this brothy, slightly fishy curry is served over chicken and crisp vegetables, including green beans, bamboo shoots, and red peppers. It’s a wonderfully clean dish, light on the palate and the waistline.
One American dish that always has baffled me is the dinner salad, an ever-present menu listing at chain restaurants. Yet the dinner-salad idea is redeemed at Red Lotus with its yum nua nam tok, or steak salad with mint leaves, red onions, cilantro, and scallions. Here, the spicy, perfectly cooked steak is ideally matched to a salad of sturdy, flavorful vegetables and greens. And, most important, all of the dish’s components are enhanced by its tangy, fish-sauce-based dressing. Another favorite was pad khi mao, where paper-thin slices of beef are sautéed with string beans, basil leaf, and chili for a hearty, spicy dish.
Desserts at Red Lotus are pleasantly light and fruity. Our favorite: half of a perfectly ripe mango served over warm, sweet, sticky rice in a pool of cream of coconut sauce. It’s nothing fancy, but it worked perfectly with the naturally syrupy mango.
RED LOTUS THAI RESTAURANT â˜…â˜…â˜…
Mon to Sat , Sun
â˜…â˜…â˜…â˜…—Outstanding â˜…â˜…â˜…—Very Good