In a word: Don't miss this Laan-Xang.
The specs: #0323
Address, hours & details via Isthmus; reviews and stories at Madison Times, Yelp (Willy St. and Atwood), Veg Guide, TDPF, Mad Hungry, QSC, the Culinary Adventures of Jahboh and Tossy; menu at menupix;
Latest Lao Laan-Xang news and reviews
Constance ate the pineapple curry with tofu and an effervescent ginger tea.
JM ate the garlic shrimp with a root beer.
Kurt ate a seafood dish and a TsingTao.
Nichole ate the beef larp, ginger spinach soup and an effervescent ginger tea.
The bill was ??? - thanks, Kurt and Constance!!
JM and Kurt gave Lao Laan-Xang an A- and Nichole gave Lao Laan-Xang an A (see our grading rubric).
Lao Laan-Xang is known both for its food and for being a chain of two locations only a walkable East Side distance apart. We visited the former Cafe Mariah location on Atwood Ave. which was warm (and humid, to judge by the steamed windows). Our server, who was fantastic, seemed genuinely intrigued by all the pictures and puzzles and conversation going on at our table.
We started off well with some egg and spring rolls. The vegetarian spring rolls were like warm, not unpleasantly moist pillows of sliced vegetables with a thin pat of tofu visible through the diaphanous wrapper. The peanut dipping sauce was excellent, while the egg rolls were pretty typical.
Nichole's spinach and ginger soup absolutely hit the spot. It was full of fresh, clean flavors, and the chicken broth was crystal clear (no mean feat, despite foggy photo evidence). Spinach stems and leaves floated about and julienned bits of crunchy fresh ginger settled at the bottom of the bowl. At two stars, it was peppery enough to make the lips tingle but not oppressively hot.
In fact, one of Nichole's two regrets about the meal is that she let our server talk her down from 3 to 2 stars on the larp. (The other regret was the effervescent ginger tea, which was interesting but was basically a bag of flavored sugar poured into hot water.) The lipids in the meat did a lot to dull the heat that would have perfected the larp, but even so, it was one of the best meals in her recent memory, and ideal for a post-blood-donation repast. It consisted of tender chopped (not ground) beef, subtly flavored with lime, cilantro, and spices. Nichole tried to be authentic and ate with her fingers, rolling up morsels with sticky rice, and to their credit her dining companions didn't bat an eye. Though the plate was enough for next night's dinner too, the rice did not reheat well.
Constance appreciated the server's knowledge of the vegetarian options on the menu, noting that veggie option are more explicit here in America's Dairyland than they are, say, in California. Choosing the pineapple curry with tofu was a good move - the dish was delicious as well. The tastes were very delicate, and not overbearing, just right.
JM's garlic shrimp was quite good. Finding tender shrimp can always be a gamble, but the shrimp flavor was not lost in the delicious sauce which had a good heat level. The broccoli was sharp and crisp, but a little too plentiful for him. He was impressed with the quality of the overall dish, even though it just fell short of his love and affection.
We were having too good a time to even write down what Kurt had, but our best guess is that it was the khua taley, a seafood and vegetable combo. The only downside Kurt could see was that it reminded him of how in Singapore this kind of dish is available for $5 on any street corner. It was a spicy, wonderful blend of something or other (whatever it was). That's kind of how Lao Laan-Xang is; seems like every dish is up to par.