Lotus Restaurant425 J St.
Sacramento, CA 95814
Any number of intriguing or amusing utterances is overheard in restaurants. The following is a little of the former but absolutely not the latter. “What is OSHA?” asks a middle-aged Asian gentleman behind the barrier in front of the kitchen of Lotus, a purveyor of Thai/Vietnamese fare, tucked behind the apparently defunct—eviction notice on front door a tipoff—Zokku in the 400 block of J Street.
“Occupational Safety and Hazard Administration,” a woman tells him. “Be sure and tell your lawyer about the citations you got the other day.”
Lesser souls might have scurried away at this point but the stringent—and visionary—demands of SN&R’s management require a higher level of courage and complacency. Over the past 13 months, this job has led to dining experiences in eateries that make Lotus and its possible OSHA issues seem like a biotech clean room. The West Sacramento Mexican joint furnished in early Salvation Army. The South Sacramento Vietnamese place at which the patriarch brings scissors from the office in the restaurant’s far corner to help cut the ramen-raft adrift in the pho.
And whatever the OSHA issues might be at Lotus, it’s worth noting that the fare faltered at several downtown Sacramento dining establishments after eradication of their cockroach infestations.
Whatever beef OSHA has with Lotus, it isn’t about the beef or the service or the other menu offerings. There’s a school of thought that argues it’s best to do one thing well. This school would demand Lotus be either a Thai restaurant or a Vietnamese restaurant, but not both. And when it comes to Vietnamese-Chinese restaurants, which abound in Sacramento, that one-not-two argument is fairly compelling because, invariably, the freshness of Vietnamese dishes makes their Chinese neighbors seem prefab and starch heavy.
At Lotus, there are more Vietnamese options on the dinner menu. At lunch, it’s mainly pho vs. a far lengthier list of tom, pad, gang and yam—Thai soup, rice, curry and salad, respectively.
Like the folks at de Vere’s, the chefs at Lotus appear to be spice adverse. Quite odd, it being mostly a Thai restaurant and all.
The tom yum soup, billed as hot and sour, is hot in temperature but otherwise neither. In fact, the soup is more sweet than spicy. The beef salad, yam nuah, is heavy on mixed greens. The convention is iceberg and the amount of same being on the short end of the mix of beef shavings, carrots, cucumber and red onion. Here red onion is a scarce and green onion spears nonexistent. Only two thin half-slices of tomato and two cucumber rounds. Again, oddly unspiced.
The Angel Wings daily special is everything the whiteboard says of it: “De-boned, stuffed and golden fried” for $7. The waiter allows as to how these large Thai chicken wings filled, with bits of chicken, carrot, clear noodles and egg to bind them, aren’t exactly a breeze to create. One can foresee easy failure for neophytes at the outset just trying to keep the skin in one piece while removing the bones. No neophyte in the Lotus kitchen, however.
The other special, lad nah—thick ribbon noodles with broccoli and mixed seafood—is rejected because of its defilement by the B thing. Instead, the eye locks on Lotus lemongrass, a house special. Here, straight out of the Vietnamese-cooking playbook, is hot yellow curried pork—or chicken, beef, tofu or prawns, for a bit more money—perching on the side of a generous foundation of cold vermicelli with some shredded lettuce beneath. Also arrayed on the noodles are chopped peanuts and too few cucumber and carrot threads. All of which can be drowned with the hefty bowl of red peppered nuoc cham, which accompanies.
The service is professional and relatively prompt, although appetizers arrive and, well before completion, so does the main course. OSHA aside, niceness of the staff takes Lotus up a skosh above flawed with moments.