Thai Lao Yeh does fiery Lao, Northern, Isaan and a few Southern dishes in an elegant boutique hotel meant to evoke the home of an affluent family living somewhere in 1920s Asia. The restaurant’s spiel places much emphasis on doing “authentic local food” but that’s created some backlash from expert foodies, given that the menu stretches from Luang Prabang to Phuket. So for example, you’ve got somtam with salted eggs (B100) on the menu, a Central variation of the green papaya salad that any true-blood khon Isaan would turn their nose up at. But even if the menu’s Northeastern focus is muddled by a few wanderings, the individual dishes remain true to their origins. In fact, Thai Lao Yeh actually wants to outdo street food in terms of authenticity, claiming Bangkokian’s wimpy palates have made the Isaan food served in town too heavy on the sugar and MSG. We tend to agree. Thai Lao Yeh’s flavors are loud and clear, as opposed to the more rounded, five-flavor Central Thai cooking. The fried frog in lemongrass, garlic and peppercorn (B160), for example, neatly balances herbal with oily, and crispy (the little bones in the frog meat, the kaffir lime leaves) with tender (the incredibly fresh peppercorn, the perfectly cooked slivers of garlic). The marinade on the “crying tiger” beef (B150) creates a richly-flavored roasted crust without it feeling like it has been dipped in sugar; and its jaew sauce is zingy and crisp, not syrupy. Just as importantly, all the ingredients feel incredibly fresh, so that even the somtam poo plara (B90), despite its full-on heat and pickled, fermented fish, has a bright, refreshing quality. Although the décor is by the Eugenia Hotel’s designer, the Cabochon Hotel isn’t nearly as grand. The dining room, for all its marble tables, brass cutlery and hardwood antiques, even feels a bit cluttered. Service is impeccable, though, but when eating Isaan food at these prices, a view, a garden, or at least a sense of space would have been nice. The food is right up there with some of the best dingy neon-lit Isaan joints in town, and we’d highly recommend a visit, but it does come down to how kee niew you are about paying hotel prices for khao niew. Corkage B1,200.
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