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Vegetarians in Paradise

 Vegetarian Restaurant Review

R: Vegans seeking romantic dining havens in Los Angeles have few options, but we had one of those aha! moments the instant we strolled into the outdoor patio of Siamese Garden that overlooks the Venice Grand Canal. Two well-placed fountains babbled gently in greeting.

Z: Though there were outdoor heaters surrounded by lush tropical plants, there were no diners on the patio that damp evening. Once inside the enchanted cottage, we understood why. This restaurant has such romantic appeal we knew we had to share our experience. Siamese Garden

R: Siamese Garden is not all vegetarian, but we couldn't ask for a more savvy menu of vegetarian items. Among the menu offerings is a special section labeled Vegetarian Dishes that includes appetizers, soups, salads, a la carte items, and desserts, along with steamed brown rice.

Z: We commend restaurants who recognize that vegetarians enjoy dining out, too. Countless times we have walked out of restaurants after perusing the menu and found nothing but meat, chicken, and fish dishes. And when restaurants make a special effort to welcome veg diners, they deserve our support.

R: Twenty-seven years ago, this small Thai restaurant was a cute little house on the Venice Canal. Now this romantic spot features an all white main dining area along with four private nooks divided by white lattice wood screens. White sheer lace curtains, drawn back or closed, provided the entrance to our comfortable, upholstered booth. The table was inviting with a white cloth and attractively folded white cloth napkins.

Z: I was so captivated by the cozy, intimate niche softly lit by diffused candelight that I might have been happy just to sit there and not eat a crumb. The feeling passed quickly, and our personable, server Oui, pronounced like "yes" in French, greeted us with menus and a sweet smile. The menus themselves are picture-perfect with several color photos of specialty dishes that entice at a glance.

Siamese Garden R: Dining with our friends, Chuck and Gregg who love sharing dishes family style, we chose the Summer Garden Rolls from the appetizer section and the Mushroom Soup from the selection of soups. The a la carte section offers so many tempting vegetarian dishes, choosing just three or four was challenging.

Z: We four daredevil diners aimed for the most unique items--Portabella Special, Roasted Chili Tofu, and Vegetables with Green Curry along with steamed Brown Rice. First to arrive were the Garden Summer Rolls. Conveniently, one order has four small, angle-cut rolls wrapped with steamed rice paper. Inside was a fine julienne of carrots, along with avocado, bean sprouts, cucumber, and lettuce. For dipping, a small bowl of Sweet Plum Sauce sat conveniently on the dish. The vegetables were crisp and fresh.

R: Typically, Thai restaurants serve soup in a special container that comes with its own warmer. Breaking tradition, Siamese Garden served us generous portions of steaming hot Mushroom Soup in individual bowls. What a treat to have really hot soup--it rarely happens!

Z: The delicious soup, served in green scallop-edged bowls, had a base of hot and sour sweet coconut milk and lemongrass with a bountiful supply of straw mushrooms and chunks of soft tofu. We asked for medium spicy but were a bit overwhelmed with a blast of heat as the first spoonful hit our tongues. We suggest you request "mildly spiced" when ordering your dishes--assuredly, you'll still feel the flame.

Siamese Garden R: The first big dish to arrive was the Vegetables in Green Curry attractively served in a green banana leaf bowl. Rising out of the saucy curry was a huge mound of colorful vegetables. No problem getting our 5-a-day here. Broccoli, straw mushrooms, carrots, baby corn, bean sprouts, cabbage, onions, mushrooms, and chunks of tofu pungently flavored with sweet basil nearly overflowed the bowl.

Z: Following the Thai tradition of lightly sweetened dishes, Siamese Garden clung to its sweet roots by lacing the curry with a gentle touch of sweetness. Grilled portabella mushrooms accented the edges of the Portabella Special that featured a red, spicy coconut sauce laced with hot basil and kaffir lime leaves. Taking center stage was a colorful julienne of red and green bell peppers and baby corn. It was diner's nirvana and provided the perfect enhancement for our brown rice.

R: Most unique was the Roasted Chili Tofu served in a green, leaf-shaped bowl. Given a choice of soft or crispy tofu, we chose the crispy that was sauteed with red bell peppers, broccoli, and onions, and dotted with cashews. What made this dish our favorite was the robust flavors of the roasted chili sauce accented with tamarind. Though we ordered it mildly spiced, it actually fell into the medium range. If you dare to order your dishes spicy, be prepared.

Siamese Garden Z: While we were thoroughly taken by our comfy dining nook, we would have been contented to sit in the main dining room and enjoy its charm as well. Because the menu has such an array of vegetarian dishes, it provides encouragement for a return visit. The tantalizing Malaysian Salad, Spicy Tofu Salad, and Cucumber Salad would make delicious summer dining. And the no MSG policy is a plus.

R: It's so typical--Zel was attracted to the salads, but I found the heartier dishes more to my liking. Next time I might choose the Ginger Tofu and Mushrooms, the Vegetables with Peanut Sauce, or perhaps the Peppercorn Tofu, to name only a few other dishes on the a la carte menu.

Z: Everything about our dining experience was exceptional including the service. Siamese Garden even has an exceptional website with photos of their patio garden, dining room, and some of the dishes we ordered. While you'll find prices are not outrageous, expect to pay just a little more for food and ambience that's a cut above.

Siamese Garden Cuisine of Thailand
301 Washington Blvd., Marina Del Rey, CA 90292
Phone: 310-821-0098 or 310-823-4947
Hours: Monday through Thursday 5:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.
Friday and Saturday: 4:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m.
Sunday: 4:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.
Website: http://www.siamesegarden.com
Moderate prices

Reviewed March 2007

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