In more easygoing times, we adopted a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy regarding the omnipresent fish sauce in Thai restaurants. Now that we are more rigorous in our avoidance of animal products—and consequently do ask—we’ve had the experience of Thai dishes stripped not only of fish sauce (and oyster sauce, too) but also of flavor. Thai Vegan on Main Street in Santa Monica brilliantly solves the flavor problem but is not an entirely nice place to eat (table cleanups are DIY, and the parking-lot bathroom is best reserved for emergencies). Satdha (2218 Lincoln Blvd.) offers an appealing alternative, a bright, clean space, with an all-vegan menu full of color, crispiness, creaminess, and punch—and it happens to be a walkable, though uphill, hike from Main Street. We loved both the yellow and green curries: the former with fried tofu, carrots, potatoes, and onions; the latter with chickpeas, baby bamboo shoots, eggplant, bell pepper, and green beans. We were also impressed by the “catfish” eggplant, battered with rice and wheat flour, fried, and soaked in a red curry paste—clearly a customer favorite. But we found ourselves scarfing with particular relish the vermicelli with curry sauce, a toss-your-own platter of rice noodles, beans sprouts, chopped green beans, and pickled mustard greens. After three visits, we can now recommend Satdha without reservation. Will we be going back again soon? You hardly need to ask.
In searching for good Thai food, vegetarians often face the dilemma of whether to risk violating a wishful “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy regarding fish sauce. (It’s hard to forget a bucket of steamed vegetables traumatically served years ago in New York’s Chelsea when the issue was pressed.) Los Angeles, it’s true, has a several strictly vegetarian Thai restaurants, which we plan to visit in due course, although our first experience was not entirely encouraging (see June 12 review). In the meantime, we very much appreciate a more traditional but still flexible establishment, and Melanee Thai Restaurant (9562 Pico Blvd., near Beverwil in Pico-Robertson) fits the bill nicely. We began tonight with tom kar vegetables, a terrific hot and sour coconut soup with multiple layers of flavor, including an underlying savoriness and mild heat cut by the light creaminess of the coconut, the acidic tang of fresh lime, the citrus notes of lemongrass and cilantro, and the varied contributions of the mixed vegetables, including mushrooms, broccoli, bok choy, cabbage, pea pods, and carrot. Served in a big bowl, it provided plenty of happy slurping for two people and came so close to filling us up that we were able to eat only about half of our two entrées, though both were well worth finishing. The green curry, which the restaurant identifies as one of its most popular dishes, deftly employs fresh mint as a cooling counterpart to the sauce (mildly spicy at our request), as well as an array of tasty vegetables: broccoli, bok choy, and cabbage again, plus red and green peppers and eggplant. As for our pad see ew, the slightly gummy rice noodles were suitably savory, with a hint of sweetness and just a bit of egg to go with the veggies. (We do wish that our coconut rice and lemonade had been a little less sugary, though.) Melanee, which is next to the offices of Samuel Goldwyn Films, is pleasant and comfortable, with quiet jazz music, pillows thoughtfully placed in the banquettes, and Buddha statues everywhere. Our waiter tonight was the executive chef himself, a friendly and talented guy who was happy to answer all our questions. We asked, and he told us. Fish sauce, who needs you?
A Kosher Thai restaurant in the Orthodox Jewish neighborhood south of Beverly Hills, Bodhi Vegetarian and Vegan (9303 Pico, near Doheny) scores points just for existing. The delicate steamed dumplings, stuffed with carrots, peas, corn, and cabbage and topped with pleasingly pungent garlic, were the highlight of the evening, both wholesome and tasty. The fried wontons, however, filled with a similar mixture, were dry, as was the fried tofu in our two entrées. Of these, the spinach with garlic sauce was more successful, albeit a bit salty, with a slight bitterness from the overcooked garlic. The pad thai, though passable, was saturated with a too-sweet peanut sauce. Though our dinner here tonight was not strong enough to justify a return visit any time soon, at least we can say that this tiny restaurant has its heart in the right place.