Leading the way in the environmentally sustainable dining trend since 2000, Emporium Thai blends old school healthy eating with cutting-edge sauces and plant-based proteins. The family-owned and operated restaurant offers a menu that caters to LA’s health-conscious lifestyle.
I recently met Emporium Thai owner John Sungkamee and was invited to review the restaurant. I was struck by the entrepreneur’s passion for creating healthier alternatives for Thai cuisine. He explained that the restaurant does not use fish sauce and MSG commonly used at many Thai establishments. Instead, John worked with Executive Chef Gina Sungkamee (his sister), to create a base sauce using umami that would mimic the fish flavor. The various sauces are now interchangeable for vegans and meat eaters alike. Using non-GMO and natural ingredients is more costly, but this is what keeps the customers coming back. In addition to using the freshest ingredients, along with seasonal produce, gluten-free options are available, and the menu offers customization for the dietary needs of LA locals and in-the-know tourists.
This is what sets the restaurant apart and is why so many celebrities frequent the dining spot. The catering portion of the business has been growing rapidly, due to Emporium’s long-standing reputation for maintaining quality (and the good karma of the owner). During the pandemic, John created a program called ‘Feed the Frontline.’ It allowed customers to buy meals for the doctors and nurses that he would personally deliver to the hospitals. Meals can still be purchased (as of August 2022). Check the website (under Community drop-down) for details.
I had a wonderful experience dining at Emporium Thai. Here is my review.
Our server Kai Mook (translated in English is Pearl) was knowledgeable and attentive. We started with Boba iced coffee and Thai iced tea. Both were refreshing and woke us up, ready to explore the menu – I just love those chewy tapioca pearls.
I was very excited to try the Mee Krob appetizer (Vegan, Crispy rice noodles with crispy tofu and bean sprouts in sweet caramelized sauce). This item was recently put back on the menu. What an exquisite presentation! It was like a sculpture built of thin rice noodles, a fortress adorned with mighty guardsman on top which happened to be crispy tofu cooked in a tangy brown sauce. The red pepper slices looked like a family crest with cilantro doubling as flags flying in the wind. I dove right in…it was light and airy, a slight tang, with sweetness and a big crunch. It reminded me of a rice crispy treat made of delicious crisp umami flavored noodles. I have to point out, I have never been a fan of tofu, but the way this was prepared, it won me over. I could have eaten an entire dish of the crunchy tofu – so good.
The Phuket Wings (Thai style buffalo wings cooked with Southern Curry Sauce), another artistically beautiful dish, made me swoon. Placed on separate stacks of shredded carrot, white cabbage and red cabbage, the combination of colors made these glorious wings, slathered in golden sauce pop. The wings had a crisp outer crust covered with a mound of Thai basil, bringing a zing of flavor along with the picante heat of the Southern Curry sauce. I had heard about this thirty year old family recipe, only available at Emporium Thai, and it exceeded my expectations.
The Akon Salad (shredded raw mango, mixed with dried coconut, fresh chili, lime juice) offered a burst of freshness. This was the ideal dish to transition from the spicy Southern Curry to our next entree. The fresh mango was drenched in a bright tangy dressing, with a slight suggestion of heat. The coconut brought a contrasting texture and taste to the dish. Named after the Senegalese American singer, songwriter, producer, this was Akon’s favorite dish at the restaurant. His blessing was given to use his name.
I often have a glass of wine with my meal. However, like most people I tend not to drink wine when I am eating Thai food. The subject came up, and John suggested a wine that would pair well with my dinner. I normally would choose a full-bodied red over a Beaujolais, however, I really enjoyed the 2020 Domaine des Mouilles, Fleurie he selected. A fruit-forward light-bodied wine, it offered notes of raspberry and went well with the bold seasoning of Thai cuisine.
Next, two more dishes arrived at the table. The Prawn & Scallop Basil (sauteed with bell pepper, onions, fresh garlic, basil leaves in authentic Thai spicy sauce) was a striking dish. The shrimp and scallops were perfectly cooked and infused with the complex flavors of the savory brothy seasoning.
I adored the Drunken Noodles with Beef (Aka: pad kee mao; Pan fried rice noodles with white onions, bell peppers and basil leaves). These yummy gooey noodles just melted in my mouth, and the tender beef held the aromatic qualities of the Thai basil, onions, and peppers making each bite a full-flavored experience.
Southern Curry with Chicken is one of Emporium Thai’s specialties. It utilizes its family recipe (mentioned above with the Phuket Wings). This was stupendous – the flavors lit up my taste buds once again, like a gently fireworks display, with peaks and valleys – a layering of spice. It was a gorgeous presentation as well. Chicken and veggies bathing in a pool of golden curry. The dish included peppers, lots of Thai basil, and Jicama, which offered a cooling crunch in the midst of all that spice.
We opted for the UCLA Curry (classic golden yellow curry with pumpkin) to balance out the meat dishes. An unusual combo, the velvety sauce had a bite of heat with the pumpkin submerged in that delightful curry. The plant-based chicken (made from chick peas) was tender and rather impressive.
Both of the latter dishes were perfect to be eaten on a bed of rice, which soaked up the luscious spicy sauces – each with unique flavors of their own.
For dessert, we enjoyed house-made Thai Donuts. These were completely different than any donuts I have ever tasted – offering a crisp flaky outside with a soft warm center, shaped like large donut holes. The four tasty treats came with a sugary dipping sauce. Wow – that was a fitting ending to an incredible feast.
If you love Thai, or just like good food, visit Emporium Thai in Westwood. Become a VIP member and receive special treatment with discounts. Emporium Thai is located at 1275 Westwood Boulevard, LA, CA, 10024; https://www.ethaicuisine.com
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