I’ve been wanting to go to Cafe de Laos for a long time. I’ve heard great things about it. So after a brief visit to the BBoy BBQ on Saturday, we rode our bikes a few more blocks to Washington Ave and found the only Laotian (I think) restaurant in Philadelphia. It’s on South 11th, just off of Washington Ave, next to that other Vietnamese shopping center on Washington Ave. Yes, there are two.
It was fairly early, so we were the only diners in the whole place. It’s small and intimate, dark and decorated with standard stuff you would see at a Thai place. It is actually Laotian and Thai food. There were elephants everywhere, you know what I mean. It’s a BYOB, and we didn’t know, so we had no B. But that’s ok, we were riding around on bikes. We didn’t need to get BUI’s.
Z got the tom yum, from the thai menu. There was actually a tom yum gai na on the laos side, which I imagine is a laotian take on a thai standard. It was quite good. There was a calimari special tha we got as an appetizer. It was plain calimari, not battered, that was grilled and served with a little side salad and a spicy sauce. The side salad was delicious, and came with a ginger type of dressing you would normally find at a japanese restaurant. This was slightly sweeter though, so a thai-ized version from the japanese. The spicy sauce was not special at all, but basically a fish sauce with some spice and herbs thrown in. I like fish sauce, or at least don’t mind it, so it wasn’t a problem for me. Z hates it and can’t even stand to smell it, so he asked for a side of any random hot sauce. The hot sauce they brought out kicked butt. It was delicious. The calimari itself was good, but may be a bit too natural for some. It’s plain and grilled with no flavoring. So it really just tastes like the sea. I love squid, and I’m even very used to eating dried squid, so I didn’t mind the very natural taste and smell. But I imagine that it’s not for everyone.
For entrees, Z ordered Om Laos. It was under the “Laos Curry” section but it did not have any curry powder in it. It did have beef and veggies. In my opinion, it was basically a laos style beef stew. I liked this quite a lot, but it wasn’t very exotic. It was simple but tasty. I asked the server what was quintessentially laotian, that did not have coconut milk in it. I do not like coconut milk, so I avoid it at all costs. He recommended Hor Mok Kai, which was steamed marinated chicken breast with herbs and spices in banana leaf. This is where things get bad. This was, hands down, one of the most unpleasant dishes I’ve ever eaten in my life. And I’ve eaten a lot of food, and there are very few things that I truly dislike. This hor mok kai stuff – it sucked. And I would hardly ever say this about any food. There was some extremely offensive herb or spice in this dish, and you could taste it in every bite, and it nearly made me want to vomit. It was just me though, as Z ate it just fine. He didn’t like it, but he said he didn’t hate it, and he ate it up anyway. He was quite hungry this day. I was glad someone was eating it, because I wasn’t having any of it. The only way I could eat a piece of the chicken was if I drowned it in that hot sauce they had brought out earlier.
~SIGH~ I so wanted to love my laotian food experience. I really really truly did. But what did I conclude from the two entrees that we just happened to pick out? 1) Don’t ask your server what is quintessentially laotian, as that obviously sucks, and 2) they make good beef stew. Is this really what I came here to find out? I was so disappointed. So so so damn disappointed. I would definitely eat here again though. The service was quite good and attentive. Perhaps too attentive as since we were the only diners, I swear, they watched us take every bite. The prices were reasonable, but you don’t get very much food, at least for dinner. I’ve heard better things about their lunch specials. I just hope that I somehow picked the most unfortunate dish in the whole menu. Or next time, I need to stick to the thai side of the menu.