Fit to be Thai

Thanks to Lemongrass’ worldly chef, the Strip finally gets a true slice of this tasty cuisine

Looking at the modest, bespectacled Krairit Krairavee, you might think the man was the hotel’s accountant, as opposed to the highly trained chef who has finally put Thailand on the Strip’s map. In speaking with him, the first impression is that of quiet resolve, apropos of his first name, which translates roughly as “strength during conflict” in his native Thai.

The Seven Things He Can’t Live Without

  • The gym.
    He had a home gym in Bangkok, and he loves to do cardio and weights.
  • Spaghetti carbonara.
    He developed a taste for it while traveling in Italy.
  • Nissan’s Skyline GT-R.
    “What can I say, I’m a car buff, and there is lots of room to drive in America.”
  • American movies.
    He loves action movies, especially ones starring Jackie Chan.
  • Traveling.
    “I’m still trying to find time to visit the Grand Canyon.”
  • Dessert.
    He loves tiramisu.
  • The UFC.
    It reminds him of muay thai, a famously brutal Thai version of kickboxing.

He’s only 33 and has been here only four months, but he seems to be adjusting well, taking in the local culture, going to the gym and improving his idiomatic use of English. But Krairavee is used to adaptation. Trained at the most famous cooking school in Thailand, Bangkok’s deluxe Dusit Thani hotel, he’s already been, at a relatively tender age, a culinary teacher and world traveler. And his English is excellent overall, thanks to a stint in Holland at a Bilderburg Hotel on the outskirts of Amsterdam, as well as in Malaysia, where he opened a Thai restaurant.

The success of Lotus of Siam (reviewed in the March 18 issue) has resulted in the birth of many fine Thai restaurants here in Las Vegas, so it was high time a purely Thai restaurant materialized on the Strip. Lemongrass at Aria is just that.

Designed to look like a silk factory, the interior captures the Thai aesthetic nicely. Krairavee aims to do that in the kitchen as well, although he’s going about it step by step. At his last job, as a chef in his native Bangkok’s prestigious Mandarin Oriental, he cooked many dishes that aren’t done often in America, such as fermented beans in coconut milk and a sour catfish soup called gang som.

“I’m finding that people in this country don’t like overly sour or salty flavors,” he says, “and because Thais cut everything they eat with rice, I have had to tone down the intensity to some degree. So I use less of typical Thai condiments such as fish sauce, chili and ginger. If I were cooking for Thais, the taste profile would be different.”

That doesn’t mean you can’t get spicy food. If you ask your server to make it a 10 (on the famous scale starting at one), you’ll be getting something as hot as most people can handle. And the rest of the menu is quite authentic.

“It’s very important for me to represent my country and Thai culture,” he says. “So, as a starting point, we have most of the core dishes popular in America, such as green curry, pad thai noodles and yu m nua yang, Thai beef salad.”

That salad is made with prime rib-eye, red grapes and fresh mint, and it’ll be the best you’ve ever tasted.

And there are many other gems on his Lemongrass menu that are immutably Thai: homemade fishcakes, Thai crab omelet, grilled pork neck—all of which add up to a unique take on Thai food.

Thailand couldn’t ask for a more sincere culinary ambassador.

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