Are Panang's weirdly tenacious enthusiasts just wrong? Are they trying to make some kind of point? Are they woefully misguided or are they spitefully gleeful in the chaos of Panang?
These are the questions I would ask myself as I drove or walked by Panang all these years: who were these people eating inside Panang, the Thai, Chinese Sushi Restaurant?
Someone at Panang has a real problem making decisions. Why leave anything out? There are something like 145 items on the menu here -- and that's not including the sushi options. They offer Thai, Chinese, Thai-Chinese, Sushi, Korean, Vietnamese, and Mongolian. I actually felt a little offended that they didn't offer Indian.
Sad to say, I wasn't brave enough to venture beyond the Thai offerings. Some people say that Panang is a great Thai restaurant, perhaps the best Thai place in L.A. Those people are wrong.
My confrontation with Panang has been epic. I've been there multiple times over the past few weeks, trying to give it a fair chance. It's sent me into a crisis, questioning the purpose of this entire foolish project to review everything in Eagle Rock. My time with Panang has been my darkest hour in my current incarnation as neighborhood blogger: I had finally come to a place that could suck all inspiration from me.
I can be a champion of perfectly fine food, and I've even tried to make a case for mediocre food: it has its place. But Panang is just crappy. Their menu is like a gigantic outlet by the highway in some far-away place: a huge selection of shoddy, low-quality junk. I tried the pepper chicken. I asked them to make it super spicy. They made it sweet. I came in for lunch and the waitress put me at a table behind a plant and then promptly forgot that I existed. The papaya salad tasted old and smelled funky. I had the basil chicken and asked for it spicy. It came twenty minutes later sweet and insipid. I ordered a pad thai to go: it was like something out of a frozen-food bag. It wasn't terrible, but I wouldn't go out of my way to eat it again.
The pad thai cost $7.83 the guy at the counter said, surrounded by porcelain chickens and dolphins for sale. (There is a bizarre miniature shop of Asian knickknacks and useless crap at the front of the store. By the register there is a basket full of Halls and raisins. Why not have some raisins with your cough drops?) Then he said it was $8.73. I didn't really care. I gave him a $20 bill and he stared at it, befuddled, like it was part of the Dead Sea Scrolls. He fumbled with some change in the register. Then he looked around, apparently for a calculator. I told him that the change would be $11.27. He considered this, looking at me with a combination of confusion and deep suspicion. After about another minute or so of fumbling with the change drawer, he gave me, very slowly, and somewhat reluctantly, $11.27.
That's just how this place rolls. It's like a cross between a Kafka story and a Jeunet and Caro movie. You should go -- once -- just to experience the deep, oddly moving weirdness of the place.
That this place continues to stay in business is probably a testament to habit, lack of curiosity, laziness, and sheer bad taste. This place sucks.
But it'll probably still be here after all of us are dead.