Walk down Miracle Mile and you'll come to Lotus Garden, a little place near the west end of the street. You'll pass dozens of bridal gown boutiques, as I did recently with my boyfriend, Matlock, and grandma, who audibly sighed as we passed each window. My guy and I ignored her unspoken expressions and stepped inside the simply decorated, average-size restaurant, and grabbed a four-top near the windows.
At first things seemed to be going well. We split a not particularly exciting house salad and some spring rolls. The salad included all of the requisite ingredients: crisp lettuce, a sliced hard-boiled egg, artfully sliced cucumbers, bright red tomatoes cut in quarters, crunchy noodles (Lotus Garden uses those flat Chinese noodles, though I prefer potato sticks), and a dollop of peanut dressing. After I doled out helpings and a little too much of the sauce, our server saw sadness on my face and quickly brought over a full boat of more peanut dressing. Our spring rolls arrived hot and golden brown. I was tempted to try one, but thought perhaps keeping my mouth available for defense was a better option at the moment.
Soon grandma began asking Matlock about his job and eventually the two were comparing memories of their trips to Thailand. But it was about to get ugly.
"I told Riki it will be hard to find a man who likes cats," she said. "You know she has two of them, right? What do you think of that? Do you have any children? Do you want kids someday? Do you ever want to get married?"
It was at this point I was reminded about the one thing in particular about Lotus Garden that I've always liked: their waitstaff is exceedingly doting. These guys are always Johnny-on-the-spot, sometimes comedically so. One will seat you and ask for your drink order then, while he fetches it, another will greet you and ask what you'd like to drink. Better to get more attention than have to beg for it, I say. And now that they were coming to the table rapid-fire to check on us, I was more and more thankful for the respectful interruptions.
Between shoveling in bites of her tasty chicken pad thai, grandmother campaigned for marriage. Matlock expressed his feelings about how the institution may be outdated as he scraped off pieces of a whole fried snapper in a savory garlic sauce. The poor fish lay there, mouth agape with little teeth jutting out.
I sampled from each of their dishes in between slurps of a big bowl of tom kha gai.
"Mmm. Fish sauce!" I murmured as I sucked down a spoonful of the warm ivory soup decorated with hearty mushrooms and bits of chicken. Matlock stuck a spoon in to taste. "Nah," he responded. "That's a root you're tasting."
"The galanga?" I replied.
"No. Maybe it's lemongrass you're thinking of."
"Uh, I think it's the fish sauce. I've made this soup at home before."
He shrugged and set the spoon down, then launched into his own crusade about how so many people get married for the wrong reasons.
The bullfighter was waving his cape. Grandma kept charging. He kept dodging.
After what seemed like an hour, the two politely agreed to disagree. He paid the check, though my grandma halfheartedly offered. We had a short walk back and finally reached my building. Matlock gave grandma a nice hug and peck on the cheek. "I hope to see you again soon," he said, and she lit up. Then he kissed me good night, promised to call later, and drove away.
"Really, you should let him order instead of telling him what you like," my grandmother commented. "And don't argue with a man when he tells you what the ingredients are in a dish. So what if he's wrong? It's better he thinks he's right. And..."
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Whoo boy. This was going to be a long night.
Lotus Garden/Date Rating
Hip Factor: 2/5