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No Luck Needed at Buddha’s Belly

December 28, 2009

A tradition among certain Buddhist sects is to rub a Buddha statue’s rotund belly for luck.  But at Buddha’s Belly, with West Hollywood and Santa Monica locations, all you need to do is sit down and order some food, and luck will follow you.

Buddha’s Belly’s liquor license does not allow for hard alcohol, just beer and wine.  This has provided the staff a creative outlet to serve cocktails using sake, as well as soju, a Korean rice wine.  We ordered a carafe of a seasonal sake special – a warm apple cider-infused sake, which was evocative of autumn flavors.  We also tried the gingerita, a cocktail made with soju, sweet and sour and ginger flavors.  It was also very tasty.

The food menu is an eclectic mix of Asian dishes, featuring Korean, Vietnamese, Japanese, Thai and other Southeast Asian fare.  While not authentic in their preparation, there is a wide array of flavor combinations to choose from.

Our party started with three appetizers – warm edamame beans, roasted shishito peppers, and an ahi tuna and avocado tempura roll.  The beans were cooked perfectly, and the peppers had a nice flavor to them, complimented by the accompanying ponzu sauce.  The tuna and avocado roll, however, deserves special recognition.  A beautifully seared piece of ahi tuna with a chunk of avocado in the center, wrapped in a shiso leaf (much lighter in texture and flavor than seaweed), then dipped in a very light tempura batter and quickly fried for a crispy texture, and served with a tobanjan sauce.  It was a marvelous morsel of food, and had it not been for the quantity of other dishes we ordered, I would have had seconds on this exquisite creation.

We followed with a spicy calamari salad, which featured flash-fried calamari rings, mixed greens, red onion, glass noodles, and a sesame and green curry dressing.  It was adequate, the dressing had a good flavor, except the “spicy” seemed to be missing from the dish.  The noodles probably could be omitted as well, since they ended up getting quite soggy from the dressing.

We continued with four entrees – yakisoba, a Japanese-inspired concoction of steak, noodles and vegetables in a red ginger sauce; spicy “Tom Tom Koon Thai Ramen,” a large vat of shrimp, noodles, broth and veggies, served creatively with coconut milk and limes on the side, to let the diner adjust the sweetness and citrus flavors to their taste; spicy peanut noodles, a variation on traditional Pad Thai, with chicken, veggies and a spicy peanut sauce; and the Thai green curry chicken, featuring veggies and chicken in a spicy green coconut curry broth, served with Jasmine rice.  The Yakisoba was very good, the steak was cooked well and the flavors really blended nicely.  The ramen was also very good – the red chili broth provided some moderate heat, and the coconut milk was a welcome addition to provide sweetness to the dish.  The peanut noodles were fine, nothing special, but had a good flavor.  But the star of the meal – and not in just my opinion – was the Thai green curry.  That broth was pure heaven on a spoon – the sweet coconut milk and the spicy curry played off each other harmoniously, allowing the chicken, veggies and rice to soak in that delicious flavor.  I wanted to jump in that bowl myself and bathe in the savory liquid.  If you only order one dish at Buddha’s Belly, make it this one.

We also ordered the roasted garlic fried rice, something I’d never seen on a menu before, and it was terrific.  The rice was cooked and seasoned well, and the chunks of roasted garlic throughout were unique and quite tasty.

We ate too much to validate ordering any dessert, so including drinks and a generous tip, the price per person came to $32, which was more than worth the value for the quality and quantity of the food.  I would certainly return to Buddha’s Belly, and I would wish anyone who ventures there to have good luck.  But as I mentioned earlier, you won’t need it.  The Mouse House Kitchen gives Buddha’s Belly 4 out of 5 stars!

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