I was looking forward to digging into some shredded pork skin and egg loaf at Lilly’s Thai & Vietnamese, but alas, it was not meant to be.
I was, it appeared, looking at a menu from Lilly’s early days. The fact that most of the more offbeat (to Americans, anyway) dishes had disappeared by the time of our visit was no doubt a factor of its location; shredded pork skin probably doesn’t sell real well in the suburbs.
That sort of reality — and it is reality, despite the increasing sophistication of our collective palate — is even manifested in Lilly’s name. Although, when I looked at the menu as a depth chart, it seemed to me that this is at heart a Vietnamese restaurant, the more mainstream Thai has pride of place, and there also are some even-more-mainstream Chinese dishes on the menu. It brought to mind a local restaurant that, when it opened a few decades ago, had a predominantly Chinese menu because its owners’ native Thai cuisine was then considered obscure in these parts.
We decided to stick to Vietnamese dishes as much as possible (and as much as is discernible, considering how cuisines tend to blend and merge). It definitely hasn’t been pho weather lately — and for that I’m grateful — but it has been summer roll weather, so summer rolls ($5.95) it would be.
And this time, I found just what I had been craving. Summer rolls — also known as fresh rolls and sometimes as spring rolls, and from the names you can get an idea of what they’re like — are a nonfried, sort of second cousin to the egg roll. The rice-paper wrapper encloses a plethora of vegetables, some rice-stick noodles and usually some shrimp. This was a very nice version, plump and neatly rolled, the flavor of mint predominant but not completely overwhelming the basil and cilantro. It was a cool, crunchy refreshment, and the peanut-hoisin sauce on the side added a nice earthy element.
Rice and noodles hold, as you might imagine, a pretty prominent place in Vietnamese cuisine, and so, it follows, on Lilly’s menu. So we’d go with one of each — the Bun Bo Xao Xa, or pan-fried beef with rice vermicelli and vegetables ($6.95) to you and me, and the Com Tom Xao Bong Cai, or stir-fried shrimp and broccoli over steamed rice ($8.95).
First, the second. Although the dish was listed as containing only broccoli with the shrimp — and it did have quite a bit of that, crisp-tender and flavorful — it also had a generous amount of miniature corn, cut up into sections, and slab-shaped pieces of carrots, both of which also were just barely crisp-tender (a good thing in all cases). And there were at least a half-dozen good-sized shrimp, tails on, which can be a problem with a messy sauce but not so much with this minimalist, almost austere version. In the Vietnamese tradition, the dish got the majority of its flavor from the shrimp and vegetables, as opposed to a sauce, and the flavor of the shrimp was somewhat assertive.
The beef dish, served in a big bowl, also was dominated by its crisp-tender vegetables (that’s still a good thing), although there was a good deal of sauteed slices of beef, all atop a bed of rice noodles.
Not familiar with Vietnamese desserts (and not spotting one on the menu) we opted for sticky rice with ice cream ($5.95). Coconut was our first choice but that was off and so we had green-tea ice cream; its sweet, cold smoothness contrasted nicely with the rectangular pad of chewy, glutinous rice and made for a sweet finish.
Lilly’s Thai & Vietnamese is fairly tame, which really is no surprise considering its distance from the concentration of Asian restaurants in and around Chinatown. But what it loses in the interesting and offbeat, it makes up in quality.
Las Vegas Review-Journal restaurant reviews are done anonymously at Review-Journal expense. Contact Heidi Knapp Rinella at 383-0474 or firstname.lastname@example.org.