When the Laemmle Monica Film Center opened, I was very excited to have a quality film theater back where I could see films made with love and attention to detail. So when Flower Child, the restaurant that shares the Laemmle building, invited me in for a menu tasting, I was extremely excited to think that there could be a one-stop destination for dinner and a movie.
I took my faithful assistant along for a luncheon so that we could sample many different choices off the menu. We started with some pastries, because why not? I was leery of the chocolate almond gluten-free muffin, but pleasantly surprised at how moist and tasty it was. The lemon olive oil cake was not as pleasant; there was a residual flavor of lemon extraction that left me looking for the strawberry rhubarb tart for relief. The flavors of the strawberry and rhubarb were intense and a great balance, but the presentation was lacking — it needed a glaze to preserve the freshness of the fruit.
The appetizer round was highlighted by the avocado toast which was, without a doubt, the day’s big winner for flavor and presentation. We had entrees of a salmon in a sweet and creamy curry and a steak wrap called “The Rebel,” which is priced at $13. The grass-fed steak done medium rare, with charred onion, port salut cheese, horseradish yogurt, and arugula was a solid sandwich and probably enough as a meal in itself.
I enjoyed the environment more than the food, though — it’s a very open and light restaurant on two levels so that the downstairs is open to the ceiling of the second floor which helps the sound get dispersed a bit. Light music was in the background and thankfully the management didn’t have it so loud that it overpowered my ability to have a conversation.
Overall, I liked Flower Child. I don’t think it will be a destination spot for me though, but maybe for a quick bite before catching a movie.
Samosa House, on the other hand — now that’s a destination spot. Taking over for the now-gone and not-missed-by-me-one-bit Rawvolution, this latest addition to the pantheon of vegetarian and vegan restaurants in town is a much appreciated and welcomed entrant. I’d been to the Samosa House in Culver City a couple of times and have driven past the one on Washington for years, but when I was driving down Main Street and saw a temporary banner hanging with the name, I literally slowed down, pulled a U-turn and headed straight to this outpost of awesomeness.
Walking in on their ninth day of operation, I was one of three customers at 2 p.m. Immediately upon my entrance a lovely woman in semi-traditional Indian garb rose to greet me and in her warm and welcoming lilt invited me in to her restaurant. Her name is Vibha Bhojak and this was her dream to open in Santa Monica. “I can’t believe it happened and all so quickly. My broker called me and when I came to the location the energy was so high and I loved it. It’s all about energy,” she said. I have to agree, and her energy is the love she puts out and into her food.
The Santa Monica location at 2301 Main St., is the fourth Samosa House, which started out in 1976 as Bharat Bazaar, a grocery store for Indian foodstuffs and spices on Washington Boulevard. In 2001 a write-up in the Los Angeles Times about the celebrity sightings of John Travolta seeking their samosas led to an explosion of new customers. Vibha took over the samosa business from her aunt in 2006, renamed it Samosa House and today is the proud owner, along with her husband and son, of four locations. All of the Samosa House sites, plus Vibha’s home, have been designed by Deborah Gregory of Digbar Interiors and Architecture. The Santa Monica store is having the outside repainted with a mural by local artist Jay Fisher to match the interior and remove the old signage.
This is “high-quality, gourmet, all-vegetarian, some vegan Indian delights at a fair and reasonable price all in a nice atmosphere — it’s a recipe for success,” Vibha explained. My first time eating at this Samosa House, I started with the veggie chicken that comes in a cashew and cream sauce made to have the hot garlic naan dipped in it. This food was sheer joy, a complex mix of flavors and textures made to comfort and fulfill. For something lighter I had the smoked cauliflower, which is marinated and then smoked with a charcoal pot to allow cooking and smoking simultaneously.
If you want to sample a symphony of Indian tastes and textures, order the samosa chaat, which is a samosa that has been broken open and then smothered in garbanzo beans, coconut and tamarind chutney, mint and cilantro chutney, sweet yogurt and spices. It’s truly an experience. For those who are on the gluten-free diet, there are many selections, and even the paleo people can find choices to satisfy at Samosa House. There is a vegan mango lassi, which is made with soy milk instead of yogurt.
As I walked in to interview Vibha, she was coming out of the kitchen with a plate of samosa for the man who was washing the windows. She handed him the plate and turned to me, and in total humility said, “He stopped in and wanted to do some work in exchange for food. How could I say no?” How indeed.
This is why she’s successful. The love she puts in her food, is what she showers on her people and her restaurants.
David Pisarra is a Los Angeles divorce and child custody lawyer specializing in father’s and men’s rights with the Santa Monica firm of Pisarra & Grist. He welcomes your questions and comments. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 310-664-9969. Follow him on Twitter @davidpisarra.