recently made my way the relatively new CALIFORNIA VEGAN that took over the second floor spot that used to be THAI BEER in the mini mall on the corner of bundy and santa monica boulevard in west la. there's also a location on sunset in hollywood. it's vegan, and mostly thai.
menu has all the standard Thai items, and the dishes can come with shrimp, chicken, and beef. Tofu is also available, so I guessed that was the vegan part. Nope. It's soy "shrimp," soy "chicken, and soy "beef." Cool. I've done the soy based "meats" many times before.
(as a side note: i am neither vegan nor vegetarian, but have gone through phases of both and so am 100% familiar with all the food products out there geared toward both lifestyles)
tom yum kai soup was a deep reddish orange broth halo-ed with ring of shiny red oil and a single bay leaf for flavor. when I stuck my spoon down in the broth and gave it a slurpy swirl, there were cute little button mushrooms, a whole cherry tomato, and something that upon first cursory glance, looked like chicken. However, upon further inspection, I could see: it wasnt vegetable; it wasnt animal. It looked like a yellow kitchen sponge that needed to be replaced about three weeks ago because it had turned an awful, dirty grey beige after scrubbing a sinkful of Chinese restaurant ventilation hood filters. *hmm*
I took a bite and chewed. It looked like a sponge, so it certainly made sense that it tasted like a sponge. It was sort of weirdly chewy, but not like meat. No, more like springy and rubbery like the way Id imagine fake Spam to feel like in my mouth. Nope, not chicken. Its made of soy, but it didnt taste like tofu either. Like I always say about vegan/vegetarian, if I were going to go soy, Id rather just have tofu!
I did enjoy the broth. It was flavorful, a touch oily for my taste, and for as dark red as it was, still could have used a bit more heat.
green curry is a creamy pale yellow color with only the faintest hint of green. After the soup, we didnt mind that sliced bamboo shoots are the most prominent ingredient, with a couple pieces of eggplant, bell peppers, and only a few pieces of chicken. The curry is served in a shallow oblong bowl on a large plate that has a perfect dome of steamed brown rice, a salad that looks like garnish, and a spring roll.
tried the salad first, just to let my tastebuds recalibrate after the strange sponginess of the chicken and the flavors of the soup. Just a plain little salad of greens, but I enjoyed the dressing and ate some of the chewy brown rice with the dressing, too. The vegetable spring roll was decent, with its flaky crisp skin, but still tasted a bit oily. It would have been alright if it had been served with a vinegar-based dipping sauce, but the dark brown stuff in the little cup was syrupy sweet.
The curry tasted just fine as far as I can tell, but I am not a good judge. If I go by the taste of it in its own flavor vacuum, then I cant be fair because I just dont love the taste and texture of Thai curry to begin with. If I go by how it compares to other green curries Ive tried, I still cant be fair, because this one is vegan, and it will taste different no matter what. Its fairest to say that I tasted the curry part and didnt hate it, but mostly picked out the eggplant and bamboo shoots to dip in the salad dressing.
For a strictly vegan diet, California Vegan is probably a nice change from the usual brown rice and vegetables at A Votre Sante and Real Food Daily, though they do have some distinctly non Thai items like burgers and sandwiches and a lentil loaf. For me, though, i think i will stick to regular thai and regular vegan.
12113 Santa Monica Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90025