Restaurant Review #14: Palms Restaurant, Thai Town

Palms Restaurant is home to the famous Thai Elvis. Frankly, I think he's a pain. I just want to eat my yummy authentic Thai dinner, and the entertainment, combined with the long family-style tables, lends a loud, chaotic carnival atmosphere to the restaurant.

The food rocks though, and you have to try the palm juice. It tastes like drinking a sugar cookie. Amazing. (It should be noted that the palm juice sold at nearby Silom Market is not as good, either because it's a different brand or because it's out of context when you drink it at home, so I wouldn't bother buying any.)

On a Saturday night, you may wait for 30-45 minutse for a table at Palms, so arrive early or pick a less popular night.

Their website is worth a look--it's nicely put together and includes a menu.

Palms Thai
5900 Hollywood Blvd., Ste B
Los Angeles,CA 90028
Lunch 11am - 5pm
Dinner 5pm - 2am
Palms Thai on Urbanspoon

99 Ranch Market, Van Nuys

This is the only large Asian supermarket I know of near me, and it's in Van Nuys, which is not that near (they have many other locations, too--check out their website to find them). The store not only carries just about anything you could possibly want, they have a variety of brands for most items. I particularly noted their ample selection of fish sauces and ice cream (including a wide variety of soy ice cream). I am also very pleased with their selection of produce (kaffir lime leaves, very fresh peeled garlic, galanga, pretty much anything you could want), canned fruit, curry pastes (Mae Ploy brand is the best), canned drinks, and bamboo plants. If you're looking to make your own stir-fries or tacos, you'll be thrilled with their selection of meat that's already been cut for just this purpose.

One thing I have not been able to find here, and oh, how I have looked, are sesame balls with red bean paste on the inside. I like to buy a big bag of them, frozen, and cook them individually in the toaster oven. 99 Ranch only sells them individually in the bakery section. I'm not that excited about their bakery. It does have a variety of items, but most don't entice me.

They have a lot of sushi, but I haven't tried it, as I am generally suspicious of the quality of fish used in grocery store sushi. The prices here are mostly very reasonable (the seaweed salad seems a bit expensive compared to that at Nijaya, and I doubt it tastes much different).

The store is spacious, not overly crowded, and also sells plenty of plates, bowls, and cooking implements. You can also get a variety of American items here, like boxed cake mixes and soda. The parking lot is a bit of a crowded mess--look for the out-of-the-way spots around back, and avoid peak shopping times.
Also, if you eat meat and like Vietnamese food, be sure to check out Pho So 1 next door. I hear it's one of the best Vietnamese places outside of Little Saigon, although when I ate there, I was mostly thinking about how my egg rolls had pork in them (I was a vegetarian at the time, and not a single vegetarian item graced the menu) and about how some rude male diners were photographing me and my female friend with a cell phone and passing it around like we were a freak show act at the circus (this included showing our server, who didn't stop them, so I'll never go back). Hopefully this was an isolated incident.

99 Ranch Market
6450 Sepulveda Blvd (near Victory)
Van Nuys, CA
99 Ranch Website

Restaurant Review #13: Bhan Kanom Thai, Thai Town, Hollywood

Pancakes with coconut custard

Bhan Kanom Thai is a bakery and snack shop serving a variety of fresh, authentic Thai sweets, including preserved fruits like orange, pineapple, mango, and plum; taro pancakes, various puddings, and plenty of other amazing treats that I unfortunately do not know the names of or know much about, except that they taste incredible and often contain some form of coconut. The prices are low and the selection is extensive. Baan Khanom is probably one of my top 10 favorite places in LA.

This bakery blows my mind. I found it by the aroma of fresh taro pancakes wafting through the parking lot when I went to Palms Restaurant, home of the singing Thai Elvis.

My favorite. Mini pancakes stuffed with creamy coconut goodness

There is valet parking at Thailand Plaza, where the bakery is located, but it costs $4.00, so unless you're going to be spending some time in the area, try to find something free nearby where you don't think they'll tow or ticket you during the 20 minutes you're at the bakery. Meters are scant, and the neighborhood is a little seedy. Though I haven't tried it myself, parking at the big yellow shopping center on the corner (it has Ross, Shoe Pavilion, and Ralphs) might work. The bakery is a little hard to find--look for Red Corner Asia restaurant, which has a huge sign and is at the back of the same shopping center. Bhan Kanom Thai is to the right of Palms Thai.

Dried mango mixed with plum

Bhan Kanom Thai
5271 Hollywood Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90027
Bahn Kanom Thai website
This website has some info on Hollywod's Thai Town.

Alternate location:
12714 ShermanWay
North Hollywood, CA 91605
Bhan Kanom Thai on Urbanspoon

Restaurant Review #12: Jin Patisserie, Venice

Tucked away behind a fence on the most well-traveled portion of Abbot Kinney, you may walk by this pastry shop ten times before you notice it.

A lovely unpretentious courtyard with a fountain and designer stools greets you as you enter the shop. The pastries are beautifully and unusually displayed in display cases built into the walls, as if the pastries were museum pieces or jewelry. The pastries are mostly small, rectangular layered cakes. They come in a wide range of flavors, and aren't overly sweet.

The shop's name accurately reflects both the French and Asian influence in the desserts. Flavor-wise, they don't have as much Asian influence as I had hoped for, nor as much intensity, but they were still quite good and so beautiful I could hardly bear to destroy them with my fork. The pastries are fairly expensive, at about $5 each for a rather small portion, but all purchases are exquisitely wrapped and would make a great unique gift for someone with mellow taste in desserts.

I really wished that the pastries were more flavorful and/or less expensive. However, if you like a dessert that's not overly sweet, you're in luck.

Jin Patisserie
1202 Abbot Kinney Blvd
Venice, CA 90291-3366
(310) 399-8801
Website (gorgeous)
Jin Patisserie on Urbanspoon

Restaurant Review #11: Renee's Courtyard Cafe, Santa Monica

Off the beaten bar path in terms of both location and decor, Renee's is a regulars bar with a nice courtyard atmosphere and a more down-to-earth clientele. The bar is divided up into different rooms, which creates a homier, less chaotic atmosphere than usual, but crowds on busy nights can destroy that vibe.

They also have a decent-sized food menu. I didn't particularly enjoy the ahi tuna salad I ordered, but then, I don't like ahi tuna, so that was my mistake. I ate here in my not exactly strict ovo-lacto-pesco vegetarian days, and there weren't many meatless options to choose from. I have only had beer here, so I can't comment on the quality of the mixed drinks or wine. The beer selection leaves much to be desired, with the most exciting offering being Newcastle Pale Ale, which is not too exciting at all.

At night, the place can be crowded and smokey in areas--this is a good place for smokers due to the not-really-outdoors courtyard area, and a good place for non-smokers to let the nostalgic smell of a smokey bar take you back to other times and places. Also, I believe they sometimes have live music.

In spite of the cons I have listed, this is a nice place to go when you want something classier than a dive bar but without the sleek pretentiousness that is so common in this one-horse town.

Renee's Courtyard Cafe
522 Wilshire Blvd.
Santa Monica, 90401
12pm-3pm (lunch)
Renee's Courtyard Cafe on Urbanspoon

Restaurant Review #10: Todai, Beverly Center

A visit to Todai is quite distressing if you are a sushi lover--but if you're a sushi lover, you probably know better than to try to get quality sushi at a buffet.

The buffet is very well-presented. It stretches the entire length of the restaurant and the sushi and desserts are arranged in beautiful rows. The presentation definitely gives the impression that the food will be amazing.

Unfortunately, it's not. The nigiri are uncannily weightless, owing to the skimpy, dried-out pieces of fish. There are no vegetable rolls to speak of. The eel avocado roll was okay, but since I am allergic to shellfish, I wasn't able to try the other rolls, which all had shrimp or crab, or seemed like they might because the ingredients weren't clearly identifiable.

But aside from the sushi, many of the other offerings were okay. The mussels were too chewy, but the seaweed salad was about as good as I hoped. The watercress salad was tasty, but on the oily side. The tempura was very yummy, and the desserts were decent, although they seemed like they had been frozen at some point. The miso soup was okay, and miso soup is fairly hard to ruin, but it was on the bland side and had white onion in it, which is not a traditional ingredient. A breaded fish entree was so greasy I didn't want to touch it, but another dish of white fish in a lemon butter caper sauce was good enough for seconds. They offer freshly-made crepes, but the only available fillings are whipped cream and sugary canned fruits, which is a turnoff to me and plenty of other Californians used to high-quality fresh produce even in the middle of winter.

Overall, I felt very disappointed by this experience. If I weren't allergic to shellfish, I might have enjoyed it more, because there would have been more things I could have eaten. Given the quality of the dishes I was able to eat, though, a wider selection probably would not have helped matters much.

This buffet is not for the health-conscious, the sushi-lover, or the person who is allergic to shellfish, and absolutely not worth $17 no matter who you are. Parking is also unnecessarily difficult, unless you are spending the day at the Beverly Center or want to blow $6 on valet.

Beverly Center
8612 Beverly Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90048
(Off of San Vincente Blvd., on ground level next Hard Rock Cafe. Park on level 3G or H)
Tel: (310) 659-1375
Lunch11:30am - 2:30pm (Daily)
Dinner5:30pm - 9:00pm (Mon-Thur)5:30pm - 10:00pm (Fri-Sat)5:00pm - 9:00pm (Sun & holidays)
Todai on Urbanspoon

Restaurant Review #9: Cholada Beach Thai, Malibu

On the Westside, we have Thai options like Natalee Thai, Pam's Place, Thai Dishes, Bangkok West Thai, Toi, Yangtze, and T's Thai. Well, I've been to them all, and none of them come even close to Cholada.

This restauarnt is a bit hard to find, but it's worth it. It's next to Something Fishy, right off of PCH, a minute or two before you see the Malibu sign if you're coming from the Westside. The parking lot is tiny, which can be a problem at times. As you walk in, employees will often be pulling fresh basil at a table to your left. You'll be greeted with a smile and asked to sit wherever you want.

At Cholada, you can sit indoors and enjoy an ocean view, or you can sit in their patio area in the back, which has a nice secluded feel to it, plenty of plant life, and heating poles for chilly days and nights.

Satay chicken

I always order vegetarian pad Thai, so I can't comment extensively on their menu, but I can say that I'm a bit addicted to the noodles. The noodles are nicely chewy and the sauce is perfect--not that a perfect sauce really exists, given the number of variations of pad Thai, but this one is excellent. I've also had the spicy fish cakes for an appetizer, and those were delectable as well, as was the chicken satay, generous strips of moist chicken with a savory peanut-coconut dipping sauce. These experiences lead me to believe that all of their food is probably great. If this wasn't enough, this place is inexpensive enough to fit anyone's budget. The veggie pad Thai is $8.

Pad Thai

Don't bother with the wine, they only have one red and one white, which means the flavors aren't likely to match your food. The white was definitely of a lesser quality than any $7 bottle from Trader Joe's. Thai iced coffee and tea taste good like they always do, and there's also the usual Thai beer.

Cholada Beach
18763 Pacific Coast Highway
Malibu 90265


Restaurant Review #8: Typhoon, Santa Monica

Don't be fooled by this restaurant's location at the Santa Monica Airport. The interior is sleek and the food high quality. Nor does the clientele consist primarily of pilots and other airport-related folks. The weekday lunchtime crowd is largely suited. The restaurant is small and aesthetically pleasing, and overlooks the runway, but is noisy due to poor acoustic design (a concrete floor and large windows). The planes themselves don't provide excess noise and are fun to watch.

Surprisingly (to me) the menu consists largely of Thai dishes. I had the sea bass. The fish was served whole in a succulent chili lime sauce with a side of rice. I am not a fan of picking my meat off of bones or of being reminded that I have chosen to end something else's life in the name of gastronomic pleasure, so I would have preferred my fish filleted, and nothing on the menu indicated that my fish would be presented as it was. In spite of this, I must say that I very much enjoyed this dish, and it was the best cooked fish I have had in a long time. I even had a small serving of leftovers (granted, I don't tend to eat a lot in one sitting).

To drink, I had green tea. Disappointingly, they do not serve matcha, but it does come in a very cool iron teakettle (don't burn yourself).

Typhoon has a sushi chef by night (they no longer have one at lunchtime) and I hear that their sushi is superior to that of The Hump, located upstairs (though I find this hard to believe). These restaurants are definitely tied together somehow--I'm not sure if they have the same owner, but I suspect that Typhoon's sushi may come from upstairs, and you have to use Typhoon's bathroom if you're dining upstairs at The Hump.

(310) 390-65653221
Donald Douglas Loop S
Santa Monica, CA 90405
Typhoon on Urbanspoon


Restaurant Review #7: Noma, Santa Monica

Noma is a friendly neighborhood sushi place without any Los Angeles pretentiousness. It is clearly popular without being crowded. The sushi menu is pretty basic, and they have quite a few hot dishes for your non-sushi eating friends. No omakase is explicitly offered, and I have not tried requesting one in an attempt to consume something more innovative, but it's probably worth a shot. I am perfectly content to dine here when I just want a lot of basic and almost consistently very good sushi rolls, nigiri, tempura, and miso soup.

The marinated albacore salad is a daily special appetizer that I highly recommend. The combination of flavors in the fresh fish and the ponzu sauce is mouth-watering and addictive. Fortunately, this is a generously sized dish (8 pieces and lots of grated daikon) so you will almost be satisfied (I always crave more). Unlike many albacore salads, it doesn't have any lettuce. I also always enjoy their yellowtail nigiri.

The prices are reasonable and generally a great value considering the high quality of the fish. It should be noted that when I ordered a mixed sashimi plate (which is less expensive than ordering individual pieces of sashimi) the fish was of a notably lesser quality. This is a tragic flaw in an otherwise cherished restaurant. Another drawback is that service is sometimes quite slow if you sit at a table. For fast service, sit at the sushi bar.

On cold nights, green tea is complimentary, refilled often, and much appreciated.

I tried to have a party here but they said they couldn't handle a party of 10 on a Saturday night. The restaurant is big enough for this (maybe we could have had to sit at 2 tables though) so I'm not sure what the problem was. The person I spoke to didn't speak English well, so it was hard to clarify the situation. Maybe they just didn't want to deal with a group that large. Needless to say, I was disappointed, and had to take my party to the much more accommodating but rather pretentious Sushi Roku.

With reasonable prices and a comfortable atmosphere, Noma doesn't have to have the best sushi in town to be an enjoyable meal.

Noma Restaurant
2031 Wilshire Blvd.
Santa Monica, California 90403
Noma on Urbanspoon


On Eating at the Sushi Bar

Eating an interactive meal at the sushi bar is a dining experience unlike any other. In no other situation (that I can afford or have heard of) does the chef prepare custom dishes for you (or tasty morsels of fish, as the case may be), right before your eyes, and then watch you eat them while eagerly anticipating a pleased reaction.

Personally, I find the whole thing to be a bit daunting. For me, eating at the sushi bar is always a catch-22*. On one hand, you have access to the best and freshest fish the restaurant has to offer, including items that may not be on the menu or that you may not have known existed. On the other hand, having the chef stare at you while you eat is not the most relaxing experience. Also, for the budget-conscious, this type of dining is not really an option. Given a menu and a table, I generally spend $30 on a sushi dinner, including tax and tip, so ordering enough of the chef's finest to get full is not much of an option.

Generally, I like to eat at a table in order to have a private conversation, not have my reactions to the food observed, and to know how much my selections are costing me. Sometimes I just want a California roll (or some unexciting equivalent that I am not allergic to), and sitting at the sushi bar makes me too self-conscious to order such a thing. A discussion with a sushi chef at The Hump, whose name was Musumu, revealed that while in Japan they do not generally eat rolls other than cucumber, pickled plum, and tuna, many Japanese visitors to America (and residents, I presume) love all the different varieties of rolls. Lesson: ordering a California roll is not blasphemy in the eyes of all sushi chefs.

My desire to sit at a table and not necessarily eat the most exciting things available may brand me a sushi heretic, but I find the experience more relaxing. Under the right circumstances, though, pulling up a stool at the sushi bar can be quite a treat. I particularly enjoyed my experience at The Hump.

For more on how to enhance your sushi experience:

Escaping the Teriyaki Chicken: Amy's Guide to Sushi Etiquette

Advanced Sushi
This is a link to an excellent article on how to have a great sushi experience. It also contains a guide to sushi etiquette, a list of restaurant recommendations, and a cheat sheet of less common fish offerings for the aspiring sushi aficionado. It's long, but a very worthwhile read.

* A book I am fairly convinced I will never read, having tried and failed twice to get past chapter seven.