The specs: #0711
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Becky ate the pad thai with hot and sour soup.
JM ate the Singapore noodles with roast duck.
Nichole ate the beef lap.
Nino ate the curry roast duck with a Thai iced tea.
Tom ate the hot curry beef.
The bill was about $12/person, plus tip.
JM, Nichole and Nino gave Vientiane Palace an A- (see our grading rubric).
Going into a place for the first time after you have literally driven past it over 1,000 times in 10 years is a little initmidating. Fortunately, Tom and Becky were our guides as former regulars at Vientiane Palace on Gorham and they showed us the ropes. Plus we had a fantastically geeky conversation with the next table over, who were visiting from the coastal South for the DiscWorld convention.
A meal on a hot day starts with cold drinks. If you know of an Asian restaurant in Madison with a better beer selection, please tell us. We saw probably two dozen choices, many local brews, in the cooler near the register, and Becky advised us that regulars are quick to get the nod to serve themselves. The Thai iced coffee hit the spot, too.
They were out of the squid appetizer, so we got the "paradise meat." Said meat is available in beef or pork versions, and we asked for pork, but to be honest the hearty darkness of what we ended up with left us wondering. We got a plate of thick, meaty (which is to say lean), hot-from-the-kitchen meat strips in a thick, sweet and salty marinade. There was a cup of mild, ketchup-like sauce on the side. Nino liked how "ridiculously chewy" the meat was, saying, "once you get past the idea that it's not an appetizer, but rather a jerky-like workout for your mouth, it was really satisfying." That triggered Nichole's memory of the jerky at Rising Sons, which, while similar, was thinner-cut and sprinkled with sesame seeds. Both are good, though.
The hot and sour soup was a go-to for Becky and Tom back in the day. It was amazingly well-balanced, yet not barnyardy like so many hot and sours. (This type of soup so often tastes like musky, manure-damp county fair air that we wonder if that's how it's "supposed" to taste, but this one was different in a way we liked.)
JM's Singapore noodles' mild spice level was right-on. The mixed vegetables were fresh and crunchy, and the chicken very well prepared and moist. The lap (laab, larp, etc.) was also right-on, but hot. It brought instant tears and sinus-clearing heat to anyone who tried a bite. Thankfully the duck curry was a coconut-milk based dish that helped cool the mouth. Nino observed also that the duck's smokiness came through the other mild spices in the dish, and said that all the flavors worked well together.
Tom's beef curry with potatoes was not as hot as he'd hoped, which put it dangerously near "boring beef stew" status. Becky's pad thai was a very simple and homogenous preparation, with mostly noodles and sprouts visible and none of the green garnishes one might expect, but both their dishes were comfort food to the max.
We all liked our meals, and the chance to nibble a variety of dishes. Nino said he could see going there again often and checking out lunch service. Plus, he really appreciated the big bowl of rice and that our server, in a rare spark of attention to the table, later asked if we wanted more (though it was on the dry side).
All that said, conventional wisdom about Vientiane Palace is that the dishes vary from day to day, from cook to cook, and from, ah, blood alcohol level to blood alcohol level even within the same cook. Somehow this adds interest instead of exasperation to the adventure of eating at Vientiane Palace.