Why state the obvious, you may enquire? Well, of course Buddha has a large belly, it’s a symbol of prosperity, happiness and abundance, but, in this column, the Buddha’s Belly in question is the restaurant located in the heart of downtown Santa Monica, at Broadway and 2nd Street. This restaurant is, as the name suggests, large, spacious and, as my dining partner, Anna, will testify following of our visit this past Saturday, abundant in delectable dishes with exotic tones.
Firstly, Buddha’s Belly boasts beautiful décor (Buddha says: “You are Buddha; Buddha is you! When you see, when you hear, when you smell, when you taste, when you touch — everything is beauty, just as it is.”), with calming colors adorning the walls, delicate use of bamboo, and lighting that, on a busy Saturday night, managed to instill just enough serenity to allow the enjoyment of the plates to proceed without any environmental impediment.
Although we had a 20 minute wait (yes, it’s popular!) our maitre’d was welcoming, with a delightful smile and a joyous demeanor (Buddha says: “Mudita is sympathetic joy, being happy for others, without a trace of envy.”) and we were shown to our booth table with politeness and respect. Within a minute or two our server, again with a happy face, Kendra, approached and took our beverage orders. Although Buddha’s Belly boasts a full bar that includes copious choices of sake, we chose water for Anna, and diet coke for myself (Buddha says: “Even the Gods do not enjoy this bliss.”).
The menu at this eclectic Asian eatery is a balanced and intelligent collage of dishes from Japan, Thailand, China, Korea and Vietnam, with such well known items as Chicken Pot Stickers (three pan-toasted dumplings filled with chicken, mushroom, cabbage and garlic with ponzu dipping sauce, $5.95), Vegan Tofu Salad (soft organic-soy tofu, organic mixed greens, cucumber, avocado, daikon sprouts, yamagobo, enoki mushrooms, wakame seaweed, arare rice crackers, sesame seeds and mountain peppercorn dressing, $9.50) and the ever popular Thai staple of Chicken Green Curry and Jasmine Rice (chicken breast, Japanese eggplant, broccoli, carrot, spicy coconut green curry sauce and cilantro, $8.95).
We decided to share a starter and thought that the Grilled Vietnamese Roll (shrimp, chicken breast, rice vermicelli, mint, cilantro, and fried onion, rolled in rice paper with two dipping sauces, sweet chili and sake reduction, $6.50), whilst, after a few minutes perusing the menu, Anna opted for a main of Teriyaki Salmon (charbroiled Atlantic salmon filet, cucumber salad, edamame sushi rice and broccoli, $13.95) and I chose the aforementioned Chicken Green Curry with Jasmine Rice.
Kitchen to table time was good (Buddha says “Be committed to practice generosity by sharing your time, energy, and material resources with those who are in real need.”), with our starter arriving after only a little over five minutes, courtesy of Kendra and her ubiquitous beaming smile. This dish was neatly presented with the two sauces delivered in a stereo dipping dish. The ingredients were fresh and wholesome, and although benign on their own, the addition of one, or both of the sauces instantly transported the taste buds into an area of vibrant stimulation, delightful.
When the mains arrived the first impression was of picture-perfect presentation. The salmon was bright, with the teriyaki sauce elegantly adorning what was a good-sized filet, with the tidy and generous placing of the rice, broccoli and cucumber salad. The curry was a cornucopia of colors, served in a voluminous bowl, with a mini-mountain of jasmine rice.
As we began to sample our dishes we quickly realized that this wasn’t a question of image over substance, no, these dishes were delicious, and clearly prepared with care and attention (Buddha says: “Practice loving-kindness.”). The salmon was superb. Moist, tender and tasty, it possessed a genuine melt-in-the-mouth quality and the rice, broccoli and slivers of cucumber salad were the perfect partners for the completion of this dish.
The Green Curry was heaven itself (Buddha says: “Heaven is a temporary place where those who have done good deeds experience more sensual pleasures for a longer period.” Hmm, I must have been very good lately!). A delicious sauce, slithers of carrots, balanced helpings of vegetables and a good amount of tender chicken pieces made this, along with perfect rice, a very pleasant experience indeed.
To sum up Buddha’s Belly, Buddha apparently said: “As you sit down to partake of your food, use love, think it, feel it, and your food will taste a lot better.” It certainly tasted very, very good indeed!