Last spring, I, my sister-in-law the schoolteacher, our husbands and another couple vacationed together in Las Vegas. We stayed at the posh Red Rock Resort (Nelly's video "Body On Me" is set there), 20-plus miles off the Strip, in an area sporting new subdivisions and strip malls. Pulling into the strip-mall parking lot that houses the Eagle Mai Thai, the Teacher and I were both hit with a little Sin City deja vu; the decor inside did nothing to quell that. A color-changing light wall behind the bar and low red furniture in the lounge reminded us so much of an Asian-themed restaurant we dined at in the Red Rock that I almost put a quarter in the cash register.
The restaurant was short staffed, which translated into a fairly long wait, and that wasn't OK with a friend of mine and her British husband who came in shortly after we did. Although we all enjoyed chatting, the husband's patience was tested, and they left to find other dining accommodations.
Large modern paper fixtures sent suffused light through the red dining room with a wall of floor-to-ceiling windows that look out over the "Eagle River." The windows flanked a ceiling-tall Buddha statue with color-changing lights—like those in the bar—hidden somewhere in its lap. The peaceful face watched over a handful of diners and an indoor serenity pool, design elements we would not have been surprised to find in the lobby of any of the Vegas hotels we walked through during our sightseeing.
The bartender doubled as a solicitous waiter, possibly making up for his inattentive beginnings. While I sipped on a sweet Thai iced coffee ($3)—sadly sans boba, the dark, chewy tapioca balls that are part and parcel in the same drink at the downtown Mai Thai—the Teacher enjoyed a Bangkok cosmo ($7.50). We started with steamed seafood packets (four for $6.95), which were a mixture of crabmeat, minced shrimp and ground pork, water chestnuts wrapped in wonton skin. The texture combination of seafood and water chestnut was nicely rounded out by the spicy brown dipping sauce.
We followed up with a shared (well, mostly shared) Koya sushi roll ($14.95) covered in bright red and orange roe and filled with a tempura-crunchy center. We planned to split the Larb of Chiang Mai salad ($9.95)—ground chicken tossed with red onions, cilantro, lime leaves, lemongrass, ground chili powder and roast rice powder—and the Pad Pong Ga-Rhee noodle dish ($13.95)—pan-fried flat noodles with chicken, shrimp, bean sprouts and green onions—but split implies even shares, and we didn't exactly consume same-size portions.
The Pad Pong dish ended up closer to the Teacher, and I surreptitiously pulled the larb into reach. The noodles weren't crispy as I assumed they would be, and I was a little disappointed to find the shrimp tail-on, which thwarted my desire to scoop up big chopsticks-full of noodles, shrimp and the large pieces of chicken. It ultimately didn't matter, the Teacher pulled the shrimp out and ate them individually ... all of them. I also prefer sweet and savory flavors separate, and the noodle dish tasted like it was seasoned with Chinese Five-Spice, a mixture that traditionally includes cinnamon and cloves. And though the larb was generously covered in red chili dots, it offered a puckering sour citrus bite to offset the heat. Mixed with the fresh flavor and scent of cilantro and the crunch of shredded cabbage and red onions, and possibly, the occasional crumbly bite of peanut, I couldn't stop spooning it onto my plate.
In the end, the Teacher and I didn't mind the long wait. It allowed us time to become acquainted with a place that reminded us of one of the best times we ever had. With the current economic climate, we probably won't be hanging out with one-armed bandits in Las Vegas any time soon, but Eagle is just across the river.
—Amy Atkins never bets against the house.