Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Satdha Plant-Based Thai Kitchen, Santa Monica

I recently took a very short trip down to Santa Monica, CA.  Why Santa Monica?  Well, Ojan needed to visit our office there for work, and I .. well, I wanted to go somewhere warm?  I cashed in some airline miles, paid $11 in fees, and was able to enjoy a short getaway to a beach town.  I think it was a good move on my part.

Since the trip was so short, and mostly during the work week, we had exactly one day (Sunday) free to see the beach, explore, meet up with Ojan's college roommate and his wife.  And of course, to eat some food.  Once we made plans to see them in the afternoon and go to dinner, I was excited to do a little research and find a great place to eat, but then they dropped the bomb on me: they are vegan.

Uh ... vegan?  Now, I was a vegetarian in a past life, so I certainly understand not eating meat.  But how do you give up butter, cream, cheese?  All the things I consider tasty?  I did some quick research, but kept coming up short.  Everywhere that sounded amazing to me seemed unlikely to match their interests.  Finally, I found Satdha Plant-Based Thai Kitchen, located only a few blocks from where we staying.

Satdha sounded promising, although, yes, entirely vegan.  Part of the appeal, besides the positive reviews, was the cuisine: thai.  I wanted food where I wasn't going to feel the compromise of going vegan, aka, I didn't want to get pizza and have strange vegan cheese.  I wanted a place where vegan cuisine feels more natural, and for me, I generally eat vegetarian at thai restaurants anyway.  Plus thai food is full of spice and flavor, so you can do without the added fats.

So, to Satdha we went, for dinner, as a group of four: Ojan and myself, and two vegans.  Satdha does not take reservations for groups less than 6 people, so we showed up a bit early (6pm), and were easily seated.  Service was good, the space was nice, the food was ... ok.  The meal started strong with one dish I loved, but the rest were fairly lackluster, and the desserts disappointed.

It was a nice choice for a healthier meal, particularly since Ojan and I had the polar opposite meal for lunch, when we got our fill of meat, cheese, and decadence with the epic burger from Father's Office.  I wouldn't return, but, it was fine.

The Space

Welcome to the LA area.  Satdha is located off the side of a busy street, in an area that is all strip malls.  I can't say I particularly like this town.
You can't see in this awful photo, but, the decor is actually quite bright and lively.  The walls are painted various shades of green.  On the walls are vases with large dark green leaves in them.  The floors are a pinkish tile.

The interior really has a decent vibe to it, open, and airy.
Place Setting.
The color from the walls doesn't translate onto the table.  Shiny white tables, white plates, basic silverware, clear water glasses, wooden chairs.  Where did the fun go?
Menu: Page 1.
Menus are paper and fairly extensive, two full pages, with appetizers, soup, salads, and rice dishes on the front page

It took a while to take the whole menu in.  We knew everything would be served family-style, so we needed to make decisions as a group.

The appetizers were the most appealing part of the entire menu to me.  I kinda wanted them all.  I love meaty mushrooms, so the grilled oyster mushrooms jumped out immediately (but, others weren't as interested).  I was really curious about the Tod Munn, described as "Thai Un-fish cakes".  Or the endive filled with "cashew-tuna".  But alas, my dining companions weren't crazy about any of these.  My first choice of appetizer, meang kham, they were willing to get, and I went along with the suggestion for mung bean croquettes since they really wanted them, even though I dislike legumes. 

We also picked one salad, a snap pea thai salad that I read good reviews about. 

We skipped the soups and rice dishes, and flipped over to another full page of options.
Menu: Page 2.
Noodle dishes, entrees, vegetables, basic rice, and desserts make up the flip side.

The "vegetables" category was pretty easy to rule out (although, well, the entire menu is actually vegetables ...).  These items were all basically just sautéed green side dishes (aka, ong choy, bok choy, chard, kale, etc).

Entrees were mostly curries, plus a signature dish of "catfish eggplant" that I had read about.  Catfish eggplant went on our list as the sole entree choice.

The noodles group contained one dish I was particularly interested in since it gets great reviews, beet dyed noodles, a dish of rice vermicelli infused with beet juice, with all sorts of goodies like yuba, crispy shallots, and coconut, but the others didn't really seem interested in noodle dishes, so I didn't press on it.

The server seemed to think our order was small, only 2 appetizers, one salad, and one entree for 4 people, but I assured her this would be fine, and we could order more if we needed.  We of course planned to order at least two, if not all three, of the desserts later.  And honestly, I was still full of that amazing burger!

The Food & Drink

Lemongrass Lemonade.
Ojan opted for a lemongrass lemonade, a house special.  Whenever a place has an interesting non-alcoholic offering, he always likes to try it, since he misses out on alcoholic cocktails.  Sadly, this did not impress.

Ojan really likes a tart lemonade, so he found this far too sweet, with not nearly enough lemon flavor.  He pushed it away, and I tried it, thinking that the sweet would at least appeal.  I didn't like it either, but for different reasons; I thought the lemongrass flavor was too strong.

So, not a balanced drink.  Too sweet, not enough acid, too much lemongrass.
Complimentary Kale Chips.
Shortly after we placed our order, a little bowl of kale chips arrived.

They were fine, crispy, fresh, but I always like my kale chips to have some kind of additional flavor or seasoning.  I like them covered in nutritional yeast to make them a bit "cheesy", or some spice, or, something.

These were fine, just not particularly interesting.  A nice touch, and a different sort of starter for sure.  My tablemates gobbled them up while I was still busy settling in and taking some initial notes.
Appetizer: Meang Kham. $9.
"Chard wrap with shredded coconut, cashew, shiitake bacon, lime zest, shallots, ginger, chili, flavored with herb tamarind chutney."

The meang kham was the dish I was most looking forward to.  This I can't really explain.  But for some reason, I was really craving things like chard wraps (I almost ordered collard green wraps a few days prior).  I'm really not sure what got into me, but these sounded great.

And they were.

4 little wraps, each inside a glass cup to hold them together, with a cute little pitcher of the chutney on the side.

These were basically about two bites each.  The wrapper was a fresh, crispy chard leaf, pretty easy to pick up given the way they plated it.  Each wrap was filled with lots of shredded coconut (which gave it tons of crunch), a few whole cashews (even more crunch), and lime zest, shallots, ginger, and chili (so much flavor).  I am not sure where the shiitake bacon was, I didn't see, nor taste it, which is sad, because that sounded great.  The chutney was also incredibly flavorful.

These were really quite tasty.  I loved all the different textures and the incredible amount of flavor that was packed into such a small bite.  Since we were a group of 4, we each got one, but I would gladly have eaten this entire platter myself.

Dish of the night, and the only one I really enjoyed.  $9 price might be a bit high for only 4 bites of food though.
Appetizer:  Mung Bean Croquette. $9.
"Mung bean and mushroom Thai meatball with sweet toasted chili - cilantro sauce."

Our next appetizer was the mung bean croquettes, that I knew I wasn't interested in, but the others wanted.  They were served on skewers, and like our first dish, with a cute pitcher of sauce on the side.

The croquettes were clearly hot and fresh out of the fryer.  The exterior was breaded, nicely crispy.  But, as predicted, I didn't like the flavor.

They were served on top of fried shreds of sweet potato, that I really did like.  Crispy and flavorful.  And the sauce was delicious, it reminded me of sweet chili sauce.

I didn't like the balls themselves, but the crispy sweet potato and sauce were tasty enough to make this my second pick of the night, and my dining companions were happy to let me just scoop up all the shreds and sauce.  $9 price was on par with our first appetizer, although it was interesting that this came with 5 balls, our first one with only 4 pieces.
Salad: Snap Pea Thai Salad. $10.
"Thinly sliced snap peas, toasted coconut, ground peanuts, crispy shallots, baked tofu, flavored with chili tamarind coconut cream."

Next we moved on to a salad.  Normally at a thai restaurant I order papaya salad, but reviews all said the papaya salad was fine, but pretty ordinary.  But everyone raves about the snap pea salad.  So we branched out and got the snap pea salad.

One whole side of the plate was just lettuce, which looked like a garnish, but really did take over the plate.  That was a bit strange.

The other side had everything else, all mixed together.  The snap peas were sliced thin, still a bit crisp.  There was tons of ground peanut, far too much of it, as it overwhelmed the flavor completely.  Also in the mix was more toasted coconut for some good crunch, crispy shallots, which I loved, and little cubes of tofu.

The chili tamarind coconut cream dressing had a little heat to it.

Overall, this was just ok.  I didn't really like it, and thought it wasn't very balanced.  It was Ojan's favorite dish, but my third pick of the night.  $10 price was fine for a large salad.
Entree: Catfish Eggplant. $12.
"Battered eggplant with red curry paste, bell peppers, young peppercorn and Thai basil."

For main dishes, there were two that people commonly rave about: catfish eggplant and the fascinating sounding Beet Dyed Noodles I mentioned above.  Since my group didn't want the noodles, we went for the catfish eggplant.

It was huge chunks of battered fried eggplant, that tasted ... well, like catfish.  Which isn't really a good thing.  Murky.  I couldn't get over how much like catfish it tasted, but, again, not actually a selling point.

The curry paste was very thick, the bell peppers kinda cold, and the large pieces of peppercorn totally deadly if you got a bite full. I did like the crispy thai basil on top.

None of us liked this very much, but, perhaps if you like catfish this will appeal.

Not pictured is the simple white rice we ordered alongside.  I asked for only 2 portions, and we still had plenty left over.  It was fine, basic white sticky rice.
Dessert: Coconut Sticky Rice With Mango. $5.
We started with a classic Thai dessert: sticky rice with mango.  I've had sticky rice with mango at more restaurants than I can count, and it is always a pretty safe choice (although, of course, the mango never makes me happy anymore, as I've been ruined by the amazing mango in Sydney!).

This was a pretty standard interpretation.

The mango was ripe enough, sliced up, but I found it rather bitter.  I really miss good mango.

The sticky rice was black rice, served warm, slightly al dente so it had a crunch, nicely sticky.  A good job here.

The coconut cream was great, but, alas, there wasn't nearly enough of it.  Seriously, see that little drizzle?  That was it.  Not nearly enough to even serve with half the dish.

It was garnished with a sprig of mint and a sesame brittle, which also decorated the second dessert we ordered.  In both cases, the sesame thing was not sweet, which was very unexpected, since it was a dessert and looked like brittle.

Overall, this was lackluster.  I liked the rice, and I liked the coconut cream, but there just wasn't nearly enough.  Still, my favorite of the desserts, and the $5 price was good.
Dessert: Taro Tapioca Pudding. $5.
The second dessert was sorta the reason I wanted to go to Satdha in the first place: taro tapioca pudding.  If you've read my blog for a while, you know how much I love puddings, and that I like tapioca, and go bonkers over taro.  Combine them all into one dish?  This clearly had my name written all over it.

Sadly ... I didn't like it.

It was served warm, not quite what I expected.  Garnished with the same bitter sesame thing, and, randomly, asian pear slices.  The asian pear really didn't seem to fit in.

The pudding was a mix of small tapioca pearls and chunks of taro.  The tapioca was well cooked, not stuck together, not hard, not too mushy.  I appreciated the chunks of real taro.  The pudding was creamy.  But somehow, it just didn't really work for me.  I didn't actually taste taro.  And although creamy, the pudding didn't have much flavor.  There was some coconut cream drizzled over it, but, just like the mango and sticky rice, there wasn't nearly enough.  More coconut cream would have saved both these desserts.

I kept trying this, since I wanted to love it, and no one else at the table was really going for it, but alas, I liked it even less than the mango and sticky rice.  I wouldn't get again.  The $5 price was good.

The third dessert option, which we didn't opt for, was just coconut ice cream.
Satdha Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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