Sunday, November 23, 2008

Renu Nakorn - Norwalk

If you've heard of Las Vegas's Lotus of Siam, then you should already know about Renu Nakorn in Norwalk. Lotus was Renu before it went through Thai restaurant cellular mitosis and migrated to Sin City where it became the blockbuster it is today, hailed by virtually every single member of the food press as the best Thai restaurant in America.

It must be said that the original Renu already enjoyed that distinction long before it relocated to the desert. In the mid to late nineties, Jonathan Gold and Tom Armitage -- two of the original Chowhounds -- had proclaimed Saipin Chutima's food as the best you can get outside Chiang Mai.

But after the Chutimas left to start Lotus of Siam, there were rumblings that Renu's quality waned, like what happened to Batman after Tim Burton handed it over to Joel Schumacher. Added to that, the complex it stood fell into disrepair. Eventually, the whole grimy set of buildings was razed and just like that, Renu was gone.

The scene seemed to fade to black for Renu. But then, earlier this summer, there was a Christopher Nolan-esque rebirth.

Renu miraculously reopened at the same location but in a freshly rebuilt and stuccoed mini-mall that wouldn't look out of place in Celebration, Florida. Best of all, word was that the food was back to being good.

Since it was our first time in (our previous attempt, years ago, was met with the discovery that we had driven 30 minutes to arrive at an empty lot), we stuck with the basics.

First was the tom kha gai, which was so thick with coconut cream a spoon could've gotten stuck in it. Wait too long, and the liquid will cool and solidify back into a coconut. It was rich, but not the least bit tiring on the palate. Our mouths never once signaled that it had had enough. All the requisite flavors of "yum" were there. The twangy, lime-perk of citrus; the gingery-bite of galangal; the faint perfume of kaffir lime leaf and lemongrass; and of course, the sinus-clearing, sweat-gland-triggering presence of chili.

Their fried tofu, though, was really just fried tofu. Also the sweet and sour sauce was a bit flat and lacking when compared to Lotus of Siam's, but the pork larb erased that disappointment with a sharpness that could cut paper. In this dish, ground meat has never met a better ally than lime juice, chili flakes, cilantro and red onion. And it was even more excellent with rice.

Dessert was coconut ice cream and fried bananas...scratch that...it was fried plantains, done in a style that I haven't had since the Wat Thai Temple food vendor fair was shut down. These were exactly like those. Not sweetly cloying, or covered in batter, or wrapped inside an egg roll wrapper. It was done with nothing but a light shimmer of coating and a loving fry till crisp. I ate one and looked up heavenward. Delicious!

The best dish at Renu Nakorn that night was the crispy mussel omelette -- which also happens to be one of our favorites at Lotus of Siam. Glutinous rice flour, egg and mussel form a pan-fried disc as rigid and round as a Frisbee. This rendition trumped LoS's version by miles (about 300 miles to be exact). All at once, it was sticky, gooey, crackly, crunchy, oily, chewy -- textures that still haunt my dreams and put Renu Nakorn back on the map as one of the best Thai restaurants in America...or at least in Southern California.

Renu Nakorn
(562) 921-2124
13019 Rosecrans Ave., Ste 105
Norwalk, CA 90650

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22 Comments:

At 6:46 PM, Blogger Loving Annie said...

Unfortunately I'm not into thai food, so I can't ooh and aah properly...

Happy upcoming Thanksgiving to you, Elmomonster !

 
At 6:47 PM, Blogger dumplings said...

Elmo,

My friend took me here few months ago, shortly after it re-located. We tried their dinner combo specials with Kabobs just to be safe. The beef kabob blew me away. But it was their coconut ice cream that begged us to return.

By the way, you watch Food Network? Did you see the Iron Chef Thanksgiving Showdown?

 
At 8:49 PM, Blogger shavedicesundays said...

Elmomonster, love the Batman analogy. Gotta look up what Celebration, Florida is all about. I'm thinking my father in law took me here once, not sure, was it next to some bowling alley?

 
At 7:23 AM, Blogger Juliet said...

I love a good bowl of tom kha gai!

I didn't know that there was a Thai wariation of the seafood pancake. I love the Korean, Vietnamese, and Japanese versions! (Yes, I know that Okonomiyaki doesn't usually have pork.)

 
At 7:56 AM, Blogger KirkK said...

Hey Elmo - It's good to know that Renu Nakorn is alive and doing well. Looks a lot nicer than the last time I visited.... The renovations looks to have been done well.

 
At 11:13 AM, Blogger christoofat said...

...sigh..I have many fond memories of the tom kah kai and the awesome larb (with crispy rice) that I could get at the old Mission Viejo branch of Thai Nakorn, before they sold it & "Americanized" it & drove all the authentic flavors away.

 
At 1:30 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Annie,

Well we can't all be Andrew Zimmerns! HAHA! And a Happy Turkey day to you and yours too!

Dumplings,

I need to try more stuff there. Next, it'll be the Issan specialties, though no one seems to game enough to chomp on wild boar.

I didn't see the Iron Chef Thanksgiving, but I'll have to TiVo it now. I'm sure it'll get re-run more than once!

ShavedIce,

Ah...Celebration, Florida. It's a city masterplanned by none other than The Disney Company. So it's extra wholesome and pretty. I only had it on my mind as I wrote it because it was mentioned in an episode of The Office a week or two ago. Also, I'm a not-so-closeted Disney fan.

Juliet,

Oh yes! I think I prefer this Thai version over all others. Okonomiyaki's good and all, but I'm all about the crunch!!!

Kirk,

They did a great job, perhaps too good. The element of danger is gone, but meh...so long as the food is good!

Christoofat,

I, too, heard stories about the Thai Nakorn that went astray. Thankfully, I heard about it before I tried to go. And when I heard it was Americanized, I just drove north instead of south, to the Thai Nakorn in Garden Grove (at the time). And all was well!

 
At 3:15 PM, Blogger Juliet said...

I'll have to give the Thai version a try, then!
Oh. I meant to say that Okomikyaki usually has pork. My brain is kind of fried right now. I think it's because of some possible news. I'll know for sure this weekend.

 
At 4:20 PM, Anonymous Shaunizzle said...

I drive past this restaurant everyday going home. I picked up pad thai & some dumplings a few weeks ago, the dumplings were good. The pad thai didn't taste quite right, it was very bland. I had to add sugar, fish sauce, and some more vinegar. I would go back and try something else but avoid the pad thai. You should try My Thai in Whittier, they have good pad thai & spicy fried rice. Also, they soft shell crab on the menu... you don't see that too often in a Thai restaurant, pretty good stuff. Happy Thanksgiving Elmo!

 
At 4:51 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Juliet,

I hope the news is good. There's just too many cases of bad news out there right now.

Shaunizzle,

My Thai? Is that the one with the kickboxing demonstration set to karaoke? I'd heard about a Thai place at Whitwood Mall and was looking forward in going...especially if they had kickboxing and karaoke!

 
At 10:28 AM, Blogger Juliet said...

If the news is true, it will be a happy and unexpected surprise. :-)

 
At 12:44 PM, Blogger Pepsi Monster said...

Elmo my man, for the first time, I think we're related! LOL. Renu Nakorn has always been my favorite Thai place. Even more so than the other so called Isan/E-san that people have been yapping about.

You should have let me know you are coming up there because some of my other favorite dishes are in their "Northern Specialities" portion of the menu. Their slow cooked beef and Khoi Soi are to die for. I'm about to do a segment on their special section of the menu in my blog very shortly. I'm just glad you are able to get up here for some chow.

By the way, you need to move up here. Since you'll be closer to Cafe Hiro and Magic Wok too!

 
At 12:52 PM, Anonymous Shaunizzle said...

Ha ha Muy Thai... and My Thai, close but not quite. Here is the website, check it out www.gomythai.com

 
At 10:58 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Juliet,

Well that's good! And somewhat of a relief.

Pepsi Monster,

I'm all about the Cafe Hiro, the Magic Wok, and now Renu...but what I've been trying to do is get these places to move near ME! I even wrote up Magic Wok as the reason why OC should annex Artesia and Cerritos on OC Weekly's Best Of 2008! HAHA! So far, no bites.

Shaunizzle,

AH. I just checked with my friend. It was Thai Table that had a Muy Thai demo in the middle of dinner service. And I think it was on a special night. Wierd that there are two Thai places so close to the Whitwood Mall. Where were they when I used to live in the area?!

But if I find myself up there, I think I'd go to My Thai because of the soft-shell crab that you spoke of. I'll go anywhere that serves soft-shell crab. Besides, I can always rent Ong Bak if I want to see Muy Thai.

 
At 11:51 AM, Blogger Runeatrepeat said...

I lalalove Thai Food and this place is super close! I am excited.

 
At 1:31 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Runeatrepeat,

Hope you enjoy! It's definitely one of the better ones out there!

 
At 5:23 PM, Blogger melissa said...

A must try. No doubt. I empathize with the location issue though, you know it!

 
At 4:55 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Melissa,

Still have Siam Taste of Asia in my pocket. That's a lot closer and from what I hear (from you and Gustavo), it's THE IT place now. So many places...so little time!!!

 
At 1:56 AM, Blogger joanh said...

mm coconut ice cream and fried plantains sounds heavenly.. the looks kind of like the taiwanese oyster omelette- is it similar?

 
At 6:02 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Joan,

Actually it is VERY similar! I was going to mention its similarity but I figured not a lot of people have had the Taiwanese version. The ingredients are almost exactly the same. The Thai seem to crisp it up more than the Taiwanese.

 
At 2:06 PM, Blogger Stanielsan said...

They don't sell food at the Thai temple any more? That's a bummer!

Is this place better than Thai Nakorn?

 
At 2:13 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Hmm...Is this better than Thai Nakorn? For me, that's a tough thing to say so far. This was my first trip and I only had those five items to judge. All were good to great. But that mussel dish was probably the best I've had yet.

Thai Nakorn holds a special place in my heart...but this has potential too, if I were to form my opinion on what I had.

So if I'm hemming and hawing it's because I think there's room for both!! ;)

 

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