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Buddha’s Belly

February 1, 2013

Last year, my husband and I were on a quest to find new exciting restaurants that we had never been to before, in places we’d never been to before.  After doing some searching on the Internet, my husband came up with a restaurant he was excited about.  He had checked out the menu, looked at the reviews and had made a suggestion.  I absolutely loved the suggestion as I had actually been to the restaurant before, just at a different location and I had enjoyed their food.  It made me wonder why I never thought before to take my husband to this restaurant.  Additionally, the location that my husband suggested was perfect because we had both talked about going here for quite some time, but had actually never been there together before.  Fast forward to the day we had planned on dining at this restaurant, we woke up in the morning and it was pouring rain.  Not just drizzling, and not just sprinkling, it was pouring.  It continued to pour rain throughout the morning and on through the afternoon.  Having no desire to drive around in the rain, or walk around in the rain to get to the restaurant, we told each other we’d save a visit to this restaurant for another day, another time when the conditions were a bit more favorable.

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Fast forward many, many, many months later, and one of us mentioned, “hey, what happened to that restaurant we had planned to go to months ago?”  So we re-made plans and decided that this time, we’d definitely go.  The restaurant is called Buddha’s Belly, and the location is at Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica.

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Buddha’s Belly is the brainchild of a native Los Angeleno who traveled and worked for 4 years in Southeast Asia before returning home to Southern California.  Upon his return, he wanted to create a place that could recreate all of the wonderful Pan-Asian flavors he experienced while living in Southeast Asian.  He wanted build a restaurant with a menu that would attract both fans of Asian cuisine as well as those who had never experienced the unique flavors of Southeast Asia.  The first Buddha’s Belly restaurant was opened in 2002 and has expanded since then.  Each restaurant is feng-shui inspired and designed to promote peace and harmony and add to the diner’s dining experience.

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Before we got started with order food, I was enticed by the unique selection of drinks on their menu.  I ended up going with the Lychee Cooler.  The waiter explained to me that the lychee cooler was made with a house-made lychee syrup using a puree of fresh lychee and simple syrup.  The lychee syrup was then served over ice and topped with a fresh lychee.  It sounded cool and refreshing on this warm day, so I decided to go for it.  I was pleasantly surprised by how good it was.  The drink was cool, refreshing, and hit the spot.  It was sweet, but without being over the top.  Lychee tends to be a pretty sweet fruit with lots of sugar.  I was concerned that pureeing it and adding it to simple syrup would make it even sweeter and dilute the flavor of the fruit itself.  But it was the opposite.  The syrup helped to dilute the concentrated surgary flavory of the lychee fruit and what you ended up with was something that was smooth and pure and delicious.

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Wanting to try a variety of dishes, my husband and I ordered a few appetizers.  Admittedly, we ordered more food than was necessary, but we really wanted to see what the restaurant was all about and taste all of the different flavors of Asia.  We started with the Alaskan Red Crab dumpling.  According to the menu, the dumpling combined fresh blue crab, green onions and cream cheese, served inside a dumpling and deep-fried.  The fried dumplings were then served atop at cilantro sauce.

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The fried dumplings looked like fried pillows that held within them something magical.  When you cracked open a dumpling, you find inside a creamy, warm and delicious combination of crab meat, corn, green onions and cream cheese.  I was concerned initially that the cream cheese would overpower the crab meat or that there would be so little crab meat that you couldn’t taste it, but I was wrong.  The combination of the ingredients was delicious.  The dumpling was bursting with crab meat and the flavor of the crab meat really shined.  The addition of the green onions and corn really added texture and flavor and the cream cheese was used more as a binding agent rather than a flavoring agent.  The cilantro sauce was also a nice cool, refreshing addition to the dumplings.  This lunch was starting off on the right foot.

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The next appetizer we ordered was the Shao Bing.  The menu described the dish as Chinese sliders on sesame seed flatbread, green onions and lemongrass sauce.  We chose the combination of the Shao Bing with both chicken and steak.  This was a more substantial appetizer than we had expected it to be.  At our table arrived 6 cute sliders arranged around a refreshing salad of lettuce mix, fried shallots, green onions and some sort of dressing which was delicious.  The Shao Bing themselves were terrific.  We received 3 grilled chicken sliders and 3 steak sliders.  The taste of the green onions and the lemongrass sauce was the star of the dish.  The sliders were easy to eat and the sesame flat bread was the perfect vehicle to hold everything.  The flat bread was dense enough that it didn’t get soggy from the lemongrass sauce, but not so dense and chewy to feel heavy.  This was my favorite of the appetizers we ordered.

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Our last appetizer was the chicken lettuce cups made with hand diced chicken, jicama, shiitake mushrooms, bamboo shoots, pine nuts, garlic, cilantro, crispy noodles and served alongside iceberg lettuce cups and hoisin sauce.

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I was a little bit disappointed by the crispy noodles as they weren’t crispy, but more chewy, so that took away from the textures of the lettuce cups a bit.  But I love the idea of being able to make your own lettuce wrap.  Grab an iceberg lettuce cup, scoop in some of the chicken mixture, scoop the crispy noodles on top, spoon over some of the hoisin drizzle and you’re ready to go.  It does make for one large appetizer though, and it is a bit messy and cumbersome to eat as you need to roll it up and start chomping away as the stuffing starts to fall through the holes and cracks and you have hoisin sauce dripping everywhere.  But the chicken mixture was nice, with the jicama adding crunch and the cilantro and bamboo shoots each adding their own unique flavor.

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Now moving on to the entrees.  Yes, we really did order entrees.  Though, had we known how large the appetizers would be, we would have started cutting down on the food we ordered.  Our first entree was my husband’s favorite dish, the spicy tom yum koon Thai ramen.  This was a meal in and of itself.  The dish was made with shrimp, thin egg noodles, lemongrass and red chili broth, straw mushrooms, cilantro, kaffir lime leaves, and a side of coconut milk.  My husband absolutely loves Thai tom yum soup, so as soon as he saw this on the menu, he had to have it.  A very large bowl of tom yum is brought to the table with its distinctive red chili broth and shrimp with fresh cilantro sprinkled over the top.  What made this soup different is that instead of it being a soup, they intended it to be a noodle dish, so there were ramen noodles inside the bowl.  Served on the side was a small bowl of coconut milk.

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Depending on whether or not you liked your tom yum soup creamy or not, you could add as much, or as little, of the coconut milk as you wanted.  We like the addition of coconut milk to add more of a creamy texture and taste to the soup, so we added the whole bowl.  Then you stir everything together and you have your tom yum soup ready to devour.  You can see how the addition of the coconut milk adds to the soup, the color of the broth turns milkier and creamier.  The soup was outstanding.  All of the flavors you would expect were there.  It was a little bit spicy, a little bit sweet, a little bit sour – everything you expect out of Thai food.  Making it a noodle dish by adding ramen to it, fills out the dish so that it stands alone and isn’t just soup that you would normally eat with a side of rice.  My husband loved the idea of the ramen noodles and loved the soup all together.

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Our final entrée, because we felt like we needed a rice dish was the ginger fried rice.  My husband and I love ginger, so how could we go wrong with ginger fried rice?  Made with hand diced sirloin, tiger shrimp, shiitake mushrooms, sweet red ginger, red onion, egg, red bell pepper, and spicy sesame seeds, this dish packed a punch with a bunch of different flavors.  The sweet red ginger gave the fried rice a little bit of a pinkish hue.  There was tons and tons of shrimp and sirloin throughout the fried rice – they certainly didn’t skimp there.  Then the addition of the eggs and the red onions and the mushrooms and the bell peppers added both depth of flavor and texture to the fried rice.  But the sweet red ginger was certainly the star of the show.  Being sweet, the fried rice did have more a sweet after note to it rather than the bite of the spice of regular ginger, which was nice, especially since the tom yum koon ramen soup was a little bit spicy.

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To top off this whole meal, we decided we’d give dessert a try.  We were stuffed, and we already had food to take home, but we couldn’t resist splitting a dessert.  We chose an order of the mochi ice cream, which came in three flavors – green tea, mango and red bean.  Each order of the mochi comes with one of each flavor, which was perfect because I don’t think my husband and I could have eaten any more than that.  Out to the table come these three adorable mochi balls.  Mochi is a Japanese rice cake made with glutinous rice.  In this case, the outside of the mochi ball is made with the glutinous rice, and the inside is filled with a different Asian-flavored ice cream.  It’s the ice cream inside that gives the mochi its distinctive color.

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Since we both wanted to try each of the flavors, we split each mochi ice cream ball in half.  Starting with the mango, which had such a delicious and lush mango flavor.  When you split the mochi ball open, you can see the layer of glutinous rice surrounding the orange-colored mango ice cream.  The outside layer of the glutinous rice was the perfect amount to counterbalance the sweet ice cream inside.  It wasn’t too chewy and it wasn’t too soft.  The mochi balls were decadent!  We might have been stuffed, but these were well worth making some room for.  Next we tried the green tea, which was just as good.  The flavor of the green tea in the ice cream really was a winner.  Finally, we tried the red bean.  I wasn’t sure what my husband would make of the red bean.  Being Asian, I grew up eating things such as red bean as a dessert because it’s so prevalent throughout many Asian countries.  But red bean is not something that someone who isn’t Asian would really understand or warm up to.  However, my husband loved it!  He thought it was the best one out of the three because the red bean ice cream was really true to the flavors of the red bean and it wasn’t over sweetened.  It was smooth and mellow and perfect.  I loved these mochi ice cream balls.  I think I could go back to Buddha’s Belly just for the mochi ice cream.

We both walked away from our meal at Buddha’s Belly blown away by the quality of the food we have tried.  We both discovered that we had a desire to come back to Buddha’s Belly again in the near future, not only to again have some of the dishes we loved so much, but to try some of the other dishes on the menu that caught our eye.  It may have taken us almost a year from when we first planned to dine at Buddha’s Belly before we actually made it there, but you can bet it won’t be a year before we’re back again.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Amanda permalink
    February 1, 2013 1:11 pm

    That place looks amazing! I want to go to there.

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  1. Bubbies Mochi Ice Cream | Ducky's Always Hungry

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