Compelled Toward Lam’s
Old Town eatery is awesome!
“You spend so much time talking about enchiladas and sopaipillas already,” she responded, “perhaps you’d do better to seek out and scribble about other gastronomic delights which you think Alibi readers might fancy.”
The preceding human interaction led August March to an epiphany of sorts. For where else might his experience as an eater lead him, if not directly to la jaujua, the land of milk and honey where things like the perfect chile relleno or the ultimate in quilites dwelt?
March pondered the thought deeply whilst rolling down Central Avenue as a Run DMC tune called “It’s Tricky” rattled out of the cylindrically shaped speaker system in his artificially intelligent automobile. Just as he passed through Rio Grande Boulevard, he half-stumbled upon a restaurant called Lam’s.
He pulled over into the parking lot at Lam’s to consider his personal experience with the food flava popularly known as Chinese—which really meant home style American-Chinese, and rarely, European-Chinese cuisine. It certainly wasn’t the same stuff folks were munching away on in Peking, Shanghai or Lhasa, but hell, his encounters with all sorts of regional variations had left a positive aftertaste on his considerably experienced palate, March reckoned as he surveyed this potentially new eating territory.
March recalled Chinese dinners—usually sweet and sour chicken or General Tso’s beef—at the Avalon Restaurant in Gallup as a child, but also at other notable locales and times. Once he ate a fine meal of orange chicken and barbecued ribs served with Tsing Tao at a nearly empty but luxuriously furnished Chinese restaurant in Macas, Ecuador.
Then there was the quick but memorable meal at Lee Ho Fook in SoHo (egg foo young, a soup of chicken feet, rude waiter and all). Further back were vignettes of those nights spent as a projectionist capable of eating plate after plate of fried rice, pork egg rolls and cheese enchiladas from China Garden when the joint was next to the Guild Cinema.
But what really moved March that day were memories of his old man: Meeting up with el viejito at the New Chinatown’s Polynesian Lounge when Charlie Kekaulike was jamming out was always a damn good time, March thought as he perused the menu at Lam’s, wandering clumsily into a seat while trying to do two things at once. His dining partner, noticing that he intended to stay and eat, shook her head in minor irritation and followed him into Lam’s, where she apologized to the hostess for March’s brusk manner before sitting down next to him and smiling beatifically.
After some time in repose, and whilst stroking his prodigious belly in the manner of Falstaff or Santa Claus, March ordered sesame chicken with fried rice, a rib and an egg roll ($11.50). His beloved companion admonished him to stop fronting such a vain tone and proceeded to order General Tso’s tofu with white rice ($11.50). She declined the rib but asked for some wontons and sauce instead. A pot of hot oolong tea ($2.95) was also prepared for our diners, per March’s request—as were two sets of sturdy chopsticks and copious amounts of ice cold water.
While the two awaited their sup, both marveled at the decor in the tiny Chinese restaurant. Certainly the place was small (though not as small as the Dog House, which was only about 10 blocks to the east) but it was amazingly bright and sparkly; most of all it was authentic; clothed in the red and golden tropes of Chinese-American culture that added a rich texture to the American casual dining experience, here was an answer to the author’s occupation with la comida Nueva Mexicana.
Meanwhile the food arrived. March was impressed with the simple yet pleasing presentation of each plate. His sesame chicken was coated in a dark, luxurious sauce that featured scattered snowpeas and was abundantly sprinkled with sesame seeds. Framed with lightly fried rice and a large barbeque rib, August was certain this meal was a path to the “true land,” a place much like la jauja, but of Asian and not occidental origin.
Investigating the sauce, he found it to be spicy, sweet and decidedly not salty. The bird meat was tasty and tender from the cook’s constant attention. A trace of black cardamom drifted across his tongue and he was sold; he began to eat with gusto then, commenting to his partner that the opportunity to eat at Lam’s was one of those great circumstances that shaped his life.
After reminding August to knock it off with the lofty exclamations, his constant companion began a discourse on her own recent gastronomic delight. The tofu she said, was superbly prepared; it was soft and warm and fluid within, yet crispy and crunchy without, so that in effect, each piece was like a perfect cube of fantastic flavor. Seasoned to perfection with the definitive flavors of red chili peppers combined with rice wine and rice wine vinegar added to the punchy texture, she said, smiling.
Both of them then went on and on about the egg rolls, which March said tasted just like those at China Garden, while his wife told him were comparable to the crispy treats on offer at 1st Wok in ATX. The discussion that followed was focused on the enormously positive cross-culture outcome enabled by the advent of Chinese-American food in the West. When they got to the part about eating at Ho-Lo-Ma up in the Heights on Christmas Day, they had finished their meals and so, rose to leave.
Sitting in the auto, sorting out Spotify choices August and Samantha read their fortune cookie outputs to one another. His told her that his read, “Something new is always around the corner,” while she jokingly told him that her fortune hinted at a lifelong but loving tolerance for a cantankerous know-it-all. And then they drove on, laughing.
2124 Central Ave. SW
Hours: Mon-Sat 11am-9pm, Sun 3pm-9pm
Alibi Recommends: Sesame chicken, General Tso’s tofu
Vibe: Intimate, authentic