Sunday, June 29, 2014

Emporium Thai: Southern Thai Cuisine in Westwood

by guest blogger @iam_robot

I remembered a few years ago Thai food was considered an exotic cuisine prevalent only in big cities. These days, getting a Thai food fix is becoming an easier process than locating the next Starbucks. And they’re often mediocre – heat is often tempered while sweetness accentuated to adjust to American palates.  Therefore, I’m always looking for a good Thai Food - something a little better and different from the conventional.

Last week, I was very excited to attend a tasting at Emporium Thai Cuisine in Westwood. This place has been open since 2000 and it’s owned/ operated by the same family as the super famous Jitlada on Sunset Blvd. Rumor has it, this is the place where Jazz and Tui of Jitlada started out before venturing out on their own.

Nevertheless, Emporium Thai Cuisine is a cut above the usual. Focusing on authentic Southern Thai recipes, Emporium is swank but the price is right. It offers an extensive selection - beyond the usual suspects like green papaya salad, chicken pad thai, pork satay, fish cakes and various curries, they have other lesser-known but even more intriguing dishes to try– Crying Tiger Beef, Khao Yam (fragrant rice salad with dry shrimp and coconut), Mussel Soup, and Crispy Pork Pad Prik King. If you're like me, you'll want to try them all at the highest heat level. I love how all the dishes can be customized to our preferred spicy scale of 1 – 10, with 3 being moderate and 10 being devilishly spicy.

Below are the dishes I tasted that night:
Coco Mango Salad with Fried Tofu
Coco mango
This is a very common Southern Thai appetizer. What struck me with this dish were the variety and vegetables, herbs, spices and accents in the salad. Shredded raw mango, dried coconut, Thai chilies, lime juice, and deep fried tofu were all present in perfect proportion. I thought this dish was a great way to start – light, refreshing, sweet and a tad spicy. In terms of texture, I really like the tofu crispiness and the red onion crunch.

Crying Tiger Beef
Crying Tiger
This is the same Crying Tiger Beef I always ordered at Jitlada. 5 years ago, I remembered I had to go to Jitlada the next day after watching Curtis Stone cried his eyes out proclaiming “hot, hot, hot” at The Best Thing You Ever Ate (Food Network). Essentially, this dish is char-grilled, marinated beef served with their homemade chili sauce. If I have to guess the chili sauce is made with shallots, onions, mints, fresh Thai chilies and lime juice. I love this dish so much! Meat is sliced thinly but very tender to the bite. The sweetness from the beef marinade complements perfectly with the heat and tanginess of the chili sauce. This is my definition of fun-eating!

Southern Curry with Chicken and Fish Balls
Southern Curry with
Chicken and Fish Balls
John Sungkamee, the owner, hailed that this curry is his family’s 30 year old recipe and I really like the balance of savory and creaminess here. I suspect creaminess came from the inclusion of coconut milk while the jicama, basil & bell pepper brought up a distinct natural sweetness. I also liked the homemade fish balls, very crunchy and didn’t feel gelatinous while chewing. My two-cents here is that I wish the dish packed a little more heat.

Seafood Hor Mok
Seafood Hor
To be honest, I don’t normally go gaga when I had a really good Thai food but after sinking my teeth into this dish, I wished I could keep eating this. This dish is a melting pot of shrimp, crab meat, and scallop baked with chili, coconut and Thai basil. It’s a blissful symphony – just the perfect balance of sweet, sour, salty, and hot. I mean, this is what Thai food is supposed to be – bold flavors with distinct tastes and textures. Hands down the best dish of the night!

Khao Yam
This is another Southern Thai dish I never had in my life. Khao Yam is basically a Thai Rice Salad. It’s an amalgamation of fragrant rice with grated coconut, dry shrimp, micro-sliced kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, pennywort and turmeric leaves. Then all these ingredients are mixed together with a sweet fish sauce. While I appreciate the craft and the brazen approach, gotta admit, this was my least favorite dish. Thought the sweetness of the fish sauce overwhelmed all the herbs, spices and accents presented in this dish. I wished there’s a perfect counterpoint to the sweetness but I couldn’t find it here.

Pad Prik King with Crispy Pork
Pad Prik King
So here’s the omnipresent Thai street food. You’ve probably encountered it in your life more than once. If you’re not familiar, Pad Prik King is string beans and crispy pork stir fried in red curry sauce. I loved the texture of the pork. When you bite into it, the skin has salty bits of crackling while the flesh oozed out red curry. Party in your mouth! It’s hard to only eat a few; I had to get two or three spoonfuls. Eat this dish with rice and you’ll have yourself a hearty comfort food. 

Mango with Sweet Sticky Rice
Mango with sweet sticky
No matter how full I am, there’s always room for Khao Niao Mamuang. This is probably the best Khao Niao Mamuang I’ve ever had. The sticky rice was sweet and creamy (from coconut milk), thought I was eating a pudding. Love the natural sweetness and hint of tang on the ripe mangoes. Second serving, please!

Overall, I think my experience at Emporium is quite delightful. Emporium has been established for a long time, and I’m glad to see John Sungkamee’s daring approach and constant dedication to excellence. Even if you decided to order Pad Thai or Pork Satay, you can rest assured the dish will be carefully executed and it will taste different (in a good way) from the typical Thai fare. I can’t wait to come back and I will request my dishes very spicy.

Emporium Thai Cuisine
1275 Westwood Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90024
(310) 478-2838
Emporium Thai Cuisine on Urbanspoon


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