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Now, fresh cilantro, the pungent herb also known as coriander, is a staple ingredient in many of the dishes here, including the plump, superb spring rolls. I happen to be a fan of the herb, but I have friends who cringe at the very mention of the it, so they may find this menu difficult to negotiate. I encourage those with similar misgivings to consult the serving staff, most of whom are confident guides for diners with limitations (self-imposed and otherwise).
The menu gets that conversation started with an eye-catching warning, advising patrons who don't adore coconut milk to perhaps steer clear of the bowl of vermicelli and vegetables called Crazy Noodles. I enjoy coconut milk, but the server confirmed that even loving coconut milk may not be enough. Crazy Noodles has enough of the stuff to drive a person insane. She gently moved my attention to one of the top-selling dishes at Lulu's: Drunken Noodles. The rice noodles in that entrée have been seductively seasoned with Thai basil, slivers of red and green peppers, lemon grass and crunchy circles of Chinese broccoli. Its popularity is entirely deserved.
I ordered the wok-tossed Drunken Noodles with fried tofu, and the soy cubes in my bowl were properly chewy, very tasty and steaming hot. On a previous visit, I had ordered another popular Thai dish, basil fried rice, with both tofu and chicken. The stir-fried chicken that night was a pleasing addition, and the tofu might have been its equal if every other cube hadn't been lukewarm or cold.
That's a relatively little culinary glitch here, and it happened the same night as the flying rice — clearly a cloudy day all around at Lulu's. The same evening, Bob took a bite of his Thai chicken wrap, made with a grilled tortilla, and complained that it wasn't so much dry as borderline dehydrated. Sure enough, all the peanut sauce in Bangkok couldn't have saved what was on his plate that night.
But even on a visit as error-pocked as that parking lot, my spicy red curry was fantastic. And the pad pet pak, with its swirl of threadlike vermicelli noodles dappled with vegetables, in a sauce that was just on the right shade of fiery, was first-rate.
Speaking of first-rate, let's go back to the ba'nh mi. It's not easy to find a great ba'nh mi sandwich on the Great Plains, but the one at Lulu's is a lulu. A baguette from Le Monde Bakery is split open, spread with Sriracha aioli, and crammed full of seasoned pork or chicken or a startlingly good paste of ground tofu (at once slightly grainy and memorably creamy).
Where Lulu's truly outclasses its rivals, though, is its marvelous dessert selection. There's traditional mango sticky rice and a "Rangoon" filled with cream cheese, banana and chocolate. But the surprise here is the array of ice creams created exclusively for the restaurant by Christopher Elbow. Anyone who follows Elbow's Glacé line should consider Lulu's a vital destination. A meal of spicy noodles rarely concludes with the simple but innovative elegance found in a bowl (four little scoops) of Thai basil ice cream or delicately seasoned cardamom-and-mango. Somewhere between uttering the complaint that I no longer craved ice cream and my first spoonful of creamy Glacé — with tart lemon grass and bits of candied ginger — I fell passionately in love with it.
Just when I thought my third visit to Monyakula's new Lulu's couldn't get any better, it did.