DINING: EMPORIUM THAI

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EMPORIUM THAI

I have to tell you right up front that I’ve loved this place for years! My friends and I used to go here quite often back in the day, after the tapings of my television show, Karen’s Restaurant Revue.  But sadly for me, I don’t make it to Westwood much anymore, even though it’s still my favorite area of Los Angeles.  (Westwood Village is the first place I landed as a teen-ager, so it’s always been near and dear to my heart.)  I don’t seem to have time for anything other than specific invited events these days, and then writing about them, so I rarely get to just go out to eat with my friends, like a normal person.

Photo by Karen Salkin, as is the big one at the top of the page.

Photo by Karen Salkin, as is the big one at the top of the page.

But when a pal recently mentioned Emporium Thai restaurant to me, my mouth began watering for their delicious food, so I knew I had to get a group together to head over there for dinner, and did so last week.  And we had a wonderful time, on every level.

Even more important than the scrumptious food, to me, is the peaceful, pleasant atmosphere, and the cheerful, caring service.  We had adorable Honeybee helping us all night, but Kevin made occasional appearances to check on us, too.  (And he’s French and Spanish, so I got to try-out my repressed romance language skills on him.)  They were both lovely, and had excellent menu suggestions.

This fountain is just part of the interior of Emporium. Photo by Karen Salkin.

This fountain is just part of the interior of Emporium. Photo by Karen Salkin.

Emporium has been around for almost eighteen years, so they really know what they’re doing!  This is a true family enterprise, and I feel that few know Thai food like the Sungkamee fam.

On the food front, we were fans of just about everything we tasted.  And, trust me–we tried a lot of dishes! My “assistant reviewers” for this one were Lisa, Carolyn, and Paola.  All four of us have totally different taste, but we were in total agreement on our admiration for all things Emporium.  So, let’s get to the highlights of what we sampled, in order.

Lisa was the only one who had an alcoholic beverage.  She said her Thai Basil Mojito, which came in a martini glass with a basil leaf garnish, was “the perfect choice” for this type of food.  She added that it was “flavorful” and “refreshingly satisfying.”

Healthful brown fried rice. Photo by Karen Salkin.

Healthful brown fried rice. Photo by Karen Salkin.

Then we got into the food.  Going out of order for a second, I have to tell you that I really appreciate that they have a “Premium Healthy Choice” section on the menu, in addition to all the other fare.  From it, I ordered the Royal Thai Fried Brown Rice Veggie and added chicken to it.  I can’t tell you how happy that made me!  I’m such a fried rice fan, but can’t eat white rice anymore, so this one was just what the doctor ordered. (Literally!) And despite the moniker “Fried Rice,” Emporium only boils it, never fries it!  And this one is just as tasty as the one on their regular menu!

Back to chronological order now.  We started-out with almost every appetizer!  And loved them!  Carolyn said, (of all the food at Emporium, not just the starters,) “I appreciated the flavors, textures, and spices in all the dishes.”  She also pointed-out how fresh the garnishes are on every plate; they’re each a side dish on its own!

Thai buffalo wings. Photo by Karen Salkin.

Thai buffalo wings. Photo by Karen Salkin.

The highlight for me was the Thai Dumplings with chicken, which were crispy potstickers.  Speaking of crispy, so were the Veggie Egg Rolls, which had an “enjoyable herb,” according to Paola, who is actually a chef herself.  Her fave was the “so creamy” Cream Cheese Wonton Rangoon, about which she exclaimed, “OMG!”  The other three all loved the Thai Buffalo Wings, which they said had the “perfect spice level,” and the Chicken Lettuce wraps that were sooo different than the usual ones found at other Asian eateries.  Carolyn said the way it was served was “unique and unexpected.”

Coco Mango Salad with Shrimp. Photo by Karen Salkin.

Coco Mango Salad with Shrimp. Photo by Karen Salkin.

The only salad we tried was the Coco Mango Salad with Shrimp, (which also featured peanuts and coconut,) but that’s all we needed in that category. It was not so much a “salad,” per se, but rather salad fixings in a lettuce cup.  The ladies said this “interesting combo of ingredients” was “very light, fresh, and delicious.”

While they went with a duo of curries, I was very happy with my Pad Thai.  It had been my favorite menu item at Emporium back in the day, and I was thrilled to find that it still tastes exactly the same.  Yu-um!

The Pad Thai.  (I don't have a pic of the curries because the ladies gobbled them too fast!)  Photo by Karen Salkin.

The Pad Thai. (I don’t have a pic of the curries because the ladies gobbled them too fast!) Photo by Karen Salkin.

I don’t eat curries, but at the suggestion of Honeybee, my pals tried the Southern Curry with Jasmine Rice, which is their signature family recipe.  I cannot even portray to you just how nuts they went over this dish!!!  It was the highlight of the meal for all three of them.  Lisa said the flavors were “out of this world,” and deemed it “definitely a must have!”  They also enjoyed the UCLA Curry, which features pumpkin.  (If I ate curry, I would have dug right in with them because I love that school!  It’s one of four colleges I went to, and actually where I met Mr. X!)  They said that both curries were “saucy and creamy, the way that curries should be.”  And I must laud Emporium for having a very wide variety of spice levels, all the way up to “Lava!”  Very good of them.

While the girls worked on the curries, I tried the Pad Prix King Crispy Pork with string beans.  The sauce was just right for me, and I really enjoyed the taste of the pork, as well.  And I was thrilled to be eating hearty vegetables!

Mango with sticky rice.  (Do you think the heart-shape on the rice was because they love me?)  Photo by Karen Salkin.

Mango with sticky rice. (Do you think the heart-shape on the rice was because they love me?) Photo by Karen Salkin.

All the food was perfectly filling.  We were totally full and satiated, but didn’t feel sick, as I often do with other big meals.  It was all just spot-on.

At the end, I shared some almost-secret information with my guests, and they were thrilled.  So, I’m letting you in on it, as well.  Desserts are not on the printed menu at Emporium, but since I’m in with the in-crowd, I already knew of the main one.  It’s mango with sticky rice, which I’ve craved ever since this restaurant introduced me to it all those years ago. Discovering it this time elevated me in the eyes of my pals because they went nuts for it!  I’d be happy to give you their comments, but all I could make out was a lot of “mmm mmm”s!

The secret Thai doughnuts. Photo by Karen Salkin.

The secret Thai doughnuts. Photo by Karen Salkin.

But even I didn’t know about their other dessert, Thais doughnuts.  Since my very first job in Los Angeles was at Stan’s Corner Shop, the famous donut place in Westwood, I’ve never been able to even look at one ever again, so I sat-out this treat.  But the other three went absolutely bonkers over them, especially the dipping sauce that accompanied the pastries!  I’ve rarely seen anything like it.  I heard a ton of “OMG”s as they devoured the puffs.  (But afterwards, Lisa did mention that she was glad I don’t eat them so that she “didn’t have to share!”  Nice.  But I totally understand the feeling.)

Our server, Honeybee, in front of the photo of her beloved late grandmother, Supis.  Photo by Karen Salkin.

Our server, Honeybee, in front of the photo of her beloved late grandmother, Supis. Photo by Karen Salkin.

As we were (finally) leaving, John, the handsome owner, arrived straight from a catering event, so we were able to learn more about their family, especially the late matriarch, Supis.  There’s a giant color photo of her high above the bar, so they feel like she’s still presiding over the dining room.  I’m sure that it’s comforting for everyone to see her ever-smiling face up there.

My friends and I had such a delightful time at Emporium that we kept lingering.  The whole evening was culinarily delectable, mentally and visually interesting, and beautifully relaxing.  There’s no problem if a customer is in a rush, though.  The entire staff is very accommodating.  Just let them know exactly what you want, and they’ll deliver the correct service.  With a smile, of course!

Emporium Thai  1275 Westwood Blvd.  310-478-2838  www.ethaicuisine.com 

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