If you are like most readers of The Times' Food pages, you probably read Russ Parsons' article on rice salad last weekend. You may have even saved that great-sounding recipe for cucumber-yogurt rice salad to your Evernote. But did you also wonder where you might find rice salad in a restaurant? Here are a few possibilities:
Jitlada, of course, is famous for its Defcon 2 kua kling, pungent seafood curries, and other powerful delicacies of the Southern Thai table. The cooking is remarkably complex, but subtlety is not the first thing you are seeking out when you visit the restaurant. Yet it is difficult to imagine a meal at Jitlada without an order of the Songkhia-style rice salad khao yam, tossed with toasted coconut, dried shrimp, fresh lemongrass, wisps of finely cut kaffir lime leaves and a sweet sauce called naam khoei that ties the dish together when you toss it yourself at table. Not every Southern Thai concoction is lashed with intense chile heat – just most of them.
5233 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood, (323) 663-3104, jitladala.wordpress.com.
Sqirl. Jessica Koslow's tiny Virgil Village restaurant is probably known for what detractors are starting to call "artisanal toast," although if any restaurateur is willing to grill me brioche like that and spread it thickly edge-to-edge with that homemade apricot jam, the haters can call it whatever they want. More toast for me. But the dish that draws the most people through the door is probably the rice bowl, which involves brown rice tossed with tart sorrel pesto, preserved Meyer lemon, house-fermented hot sauce, greens, a bit of feta and a poached egg, among other things, which a cookbook-writer friend assumed was an interpretation of an old Persian dish, but which happened to arise in Koslow's imagination. If your tastes run that way, you can get the bowl with crisped brown rice instead.
720 N. Virgil Ave., Los Angeles, (213) 394-6526, sqirlla.com.
Renu Nakorn. Speaking of crunchy rice salads, the best version ever may be the Isaan Thai nam kao tod, made with fried peanuts, pungent herbs, a bit of citrus and pink, slippery cubes of a raw cured pork sausage that is occasionally described as Thai Spam. If the nam kao tod is spicy and fresh-tasting enough, it may be the perfect dish with which to power down an icy bottle of Singha. At Renu Nakorn, an often-overlooked restaurant next to the last working dairy in Norwalk, it is always spicy and fresh.
13019 Rosecrans Ave #105, Norwalk, (562) 921-2124.
Jeonju. Is bibimbap Korea's great contribution to the world of rice salads? Of course. It is difficult to imagine a more primal experience than a bowl of bibimbap at one of the old places in the southern Korean city of Jeonju — a minimalist concoction of rice, mountain vegetables, a fried egg and the most delicious bean sprouts you will ever taste, tossed with a big spoonful of fermented chile-bean paste, gojuchang, as deep and complex as a dram of old Scotch. The Koreatown Jeonju, named for the dish's birthplace, serves practically nothing but bibimbap, and if you get the version made in a superheated stone vessel, there will be a subtly smoky flavor and a delicious, crunchy crust to nibble on toward the end of the meal.
2716 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 386-5678.
A-Won. The other great Korean rice salad is probably hwe dup bap, which involves cubes of raw fish, dried seaweed, chopped greens and more of that sweet, funky gojuchang, tossed in bowls as big as hubcaps. Would the fish at A-Won pass muster at Shunji? Does hwe dup bap sometimes seem like a fast-casual creation, like something you might find on a really, really good day at Tender Greens? Perhaps. But when the smelt roe is crackling under your teeth and the raw fish melts into the hot rice, it is really hard to care.
913 1/2 S. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles, (213) 389-6764.
Daw Yee. Burmese cuisine is more famous for its crunchy ginger salad, catfish chowder and abstracted biryanis than it is for its rice salad. And if you're going to brave the wait at Daw Yee Myanmar Café, a minuscule Burmese restaurant on a Monterey Park side street, you're probably more attracted by the keema platha and the samosas than you are by the rice salad, which a non-Burmese closely resembles warm fried rice mingled with chiles, fried peanuts and soybeans, fermented tea leaves and tiny dried shrimp. The impression is fresh and bright, yet funky as hell.