Sunday, August 19, 2007
Bulan, Melrose Ave.
BULAN THAI VEGETARIAN KITCHEN
I actually ate here the day they opened, then a few times in the following weeks, then they were written up in the L.A. Times, then they changed names (threatened to be sued by a restaurant with the same name in London) and now I’ve returned to find the menu is the same but the flavors seem to have leaned towards the non-Thai palate (more sugar, less spice). The offerings are still more authentic than those on plate at the empire of vegan Thai restaurants (spawned by the same family?) mushrooming across L.A. from Santa Monica to Echo Park to Reseda. I wish that clan of restaurants were all identified with the same name but I’m usually tipped off when I see pancakes and “Cowboy wrap” on the menu.
Bulan is not a vegan restaurant although all but a few of the dishes on the menu are vegan. The items that are lacto-ovo vegetarian are clearly identified on the menu and can be prepared vegan upon request.
I have tasted soy flesh in many forms on several continents and although it has been over 20 years since I’ve eaten the real thing, I know my mock meats and Bulan’s “chicken” is good. The "chicken" is chewy, meaty, and moist with a salty poultry flavor without being deep fried as is the case with the best versions in most Chinese vegetarian restaurants. A good format in which to appreciate their "chicken" is the sate appetizer. The pepper steak however, tastes like dehydrated sheets of TVP (available at any 7th Day Adventist supply store) and the soy shrimp is the typical rubbery product available in Asian grocery stores, with slightly less of the unpleasant fishy flavor.
For this dinner, we ordered the glass noodle salad, Pad Kee Mao (drunken noodles), and Broccoli with dried chili and soy chicken. The contrast of the warm glass noodles on the crisp salad of lettuce, red onion slices and scallions was refreshing. The practically oil-free lime dressing was a bit one-note though, lacking the funk of fermentation that fish sauce would normally impart. The toasted cashews however rounded out the tart citrus and sharpness of the onion.
Both the Pad Kee Mao (wide rice noodles) and broccoli “chicken” dish were too sweet with the noodles tasting more like your average West Los Angeles Pad Thai than the promised spicy noodles. We requested that both dishes be prepared spicy but other than gnawing on the few dried chilis on the plate, no heat could be detected. I could consider that perhaps these dishes aren't meant to be spicy, but having been addicted to spicy food since childhood, the only place where I've met my chili match (could only get in a couple of bites) was in Thailand so I know that when there is a chili asterisk next to a menu item in a Thai restaurant, the dish is meant to sear.
The selection of rices to accompany the dishes are nice: pumpkin rice, coconut rice (same as is used in the rice mango dessert), sticky rice, and plain jasmine or brown rice. We ordered the sticky rice which indeed stuck so well that it behaved more like a rice cake. I was able to tear off a glutinous ball and use it as a scarpetta (little spoon) to mop up the extra sauce much as I use bread to clean the remnants of marinara from my empty pasta plate.
The table next to us ordered the green curry spaghetti which looked worth trying. Would I eat here again? Yes, for the peace of mind in knowing that no meat, broth or fish sauce had touched my food, for the better than average soy chicken, and the yet to be explored interesting menu items.
Bulan Thai Vegetarian Kitchen
7168 Melrose Avenue (323) 857-1882
Hours: 11am - 10pm daily