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the Beach Gourmet: Monsoon Café: A Bit of Asia in Downtown Santa Monica:

Monsoon restaurant on Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade is a pan-Asian restaurant decorated with exotic lanterns, carvings, beaded curtains and beguiling masks, reminiscent of a mysterious tropical club in Singapore or a Saigon eatery, with only the humidity and fumes from a nearby opium den absent.

The food is an exotic mix of Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai and more, so it appears as if every country in Asia could have been influential here. My friend and I decided to close the weekend at Monsoon this past Sunday evening and a memorable visit it was.

We chose to dine in the main room that has a distinct courtyard feel to it, and were rapidly seated at chairs and a table that had more bamboo than No. 54 (does anyone remember that song from the early 1960s?).  We both ordered an iced jasmine tea to quench our thirsts.

The dinner menu is extensive without being overbearing, and well balanced with appetizers, entrées and desserts. For an appetizer I chose the Vegetarian Samosa (curried potato and green peas wrapped in Indian pastry, served with raita and green chutney, $4.75) whilst my friend opted for the Calamari Tempura (light and crispy, served with curry mustard and a whisper of mild chili sauce, $7.95).

The Samosas were absolutely divine and literally melted in my mouth with a delicate texture, crispy pastry and tantalizing flavor aided and abetted by the raita (Indian yogurt) and the minty green chutney. The calamari was “tender and lovely,” according to my partner. The menu includes a number of interesting appetizer choices including Tuna Crab Egg roll ($8.95) and Vietnamese Egg Rolls ($7.75)…hmmm.

           At entrée time I was “Shanghaied” by the Blackened Ahi Tuna (spiced tuna seared rare and served with seasoned steamed vegetables, wasabi mashed potatoes and drizzled with wasabi mustard, $20.95) while my partner could not resist the temptation of the Grilled Teriyaki Atlantic Salmon, (Atlantic salmon marinated in teriyaki orange sauce, grilled and glazed, topped with scallions served with white rice and dark soy veggies, $18).

The Ahi Tuna was well presented and prepared, and I found that the natural flavor of the fish was not dominated, but enhanced, by the wasabi mustard – a very smart combination. The mashed potatoes were balanced and fluffy with, again, a complimentary flavor. All in all, a very good dish.

My partner’s entree was very, very good and I thoroughly enjoyed sampling a morsel or two, or three!

Monsoon Café is a vibrant and exciting venue and is a perfect environment for a party, a date or even a business lunch. So if your penchant is for excellent food, some cool musical entertainment and a lot of fun, then head down to the Promenade for a little taste of Asia, without the inconvenience of international travel.

Monsoon Café, 1212 Third Street Promenade, 310.576.9996, call for hours.

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