New Yorkers are so enamored of their pad thais and Massaman curries that even the most generic Thai joints don’t need to do much to build up a following. It’s that sort of logic that must have inspired the owners of Laut to hide their best food—and its country of origin—behind a Thai menu and awning. The restaurant, which should really be focusing on what it does best—Malaysian cuisine—casts its net even wider by adding a sushi bar to the mix. While none of this inspires much confidence, sorting through the Pan-Asian muddle has its rewards. The place, which does brisk takeout business, is far more attractive than it needs to be, with Southeast Asian street scenes sketched onto the mood-lit brick walls. The Malaysian dishes, mixed in with the Thai, are all generously portioned and assertively spiced. You won’t find a more genuine Curry laksa—the traditional noodle soup (a meal unto itself) with fish balls, fried tofu, basil and mint—this side of Chinatown. Nasi lemak, a smorgasbord of fiery veggies and proteins in miniature stacks around coconut rice, is even more potent, with no tempering for the Western palate (mix the chicken, shrimp, pickles, peanuts and dried baby fish together into a spicy mess). Dessert—greasy fried bananas drenched in chocolate and whipped cream, not-sweet-enough sticky rice sprinkled over underripe mango—are about as run-of-the-mill as the Thai food and the sushi. Instead of pandering to the takeout crowd, the restaurant ought to let its Malaysian heritage take center stage.
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