There are spaces in the city that attract… I won’t say weird businesses, because it’s just me who is wrongly judging, but let’s say unique shops. Or at least places with an edge.
One of them is the unexpectedly ornate structure at the northwest corner of Highland and Rosecrans avenues in the northern part of Manhattan Beach. One of the occupants was Sugaring LA, a 4,000-year-old Persian process of waxing using a sugar (or honey) solution. Something that I, as a regular, know nothing about.
Closer to my sensibility there was a good Cuban restaurant called Little Havana (sadly gone) and a really good Peruvian / Japanese shop called Kotosh, which was at least as good, and maybe even better. They both live in memory, replaced by a good Thai restaurant called Nawa – notable for the two finely scented dishes which are about as good as Siamese food in these areas, and for having an alfresco dining area on Highland Avenue, which on a lovely warm evening, with breezes wafting in from the air. The ocean below, is as good a place to eat chicken satay and steamed gyoza dumplings as any other in town. Better even.
While people-watching isn’t as lively at this end of Highland Avenue – not as much as Manhattan Beach Boulevard – it’s not that bad, not with hot spots like Pancho’s, Baja Sharkeez, and Fishbar nearby. , which bring in a properly colored crowd.
But somehow, Nawa is away from all of those. It is an island of comfort in the midst of a world of culinary hyperactivity. Sitting there eating the top notch som tum papaya salad, spilling some thai iced coffee (such a strong drink I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to yawn for a week or so), I was pretty much too glad that a local could be. Although I had to park several blocks down from Rosecrans. Walking helps burn calories so I can eat more without the guilt.
And there is much more to eat at Nawa Thai. This is not some sort of post-modernist, reinterpretative Thai fusion restaurant. It’s a destination for what boils down to a list of the greatest hits of Siamese cuisine that we’ve come to know and love over the years. It’s good to understand that I don’t have to travel to Thai Town in East Hollywood to eat such good food; it’s right here on the corner of Highland and Rosecrans.
My love of papaya salad is akin to my adoring mee krob (which is not on the menu) and pad thai (which is). I have come to believe over the years that our passion for particular dishes is a complex mix of how not only taste, but also texture, and the underlying taste interactions, cause us to respond to food. in a way that is unique to each of us. I don’t eat a lot of candy. But put a Kit-Kat bar in front of me, and I lose all resistance. (I came back from Tokyo, where Kit-Kats come in dozens of flavors – anyone, Wasabi Horseradish Kit-Kat? – and enjoyed a whole bag of bars. not eaten since.)
In the case of papaya salad, there’s something about the crunch of green papaya, the crackle of carrots and peanuts, the sweet flavor and texture of shrimp and the intensity of the heavy dressing that makes me weak. . As much as I love chicken larb and fiery beef for salads, it’s papaya and shrimp that are my loyalty. Ditto my love of chicken satay over beef satay. Chicken interacts with the thick and noticeable peanut sauce in a way beef never does. And the cucumber salad is a perfect counter taste for both the chicken and the gravy – so drastically different, and so fair.
For me, Thai cuisine is an exercise in points and counterpoints. A theme is established, then a counter-theme plays against it, creating an exceptional whole. There is a pleasant sweetness of the gyoza steamed chicken meatballs, enlivened by the sweet chili sauce. There’s chili oil and lime in the spicy and sour tom yum soup – offset by lemongrass, kaffir leaves, galangal – with a choice of chicken, shrimp, vegetables or seafood. mixed up for good measure.
This is where you’ll find a trout fried in a sweet and spicy mango sauce, affably called “Trout Refresher” – which looks like a very strange cocktail, and it certainly isn’t. And then there’s the grilled salmon in curry sauce, a combination of flavors I couldn’t imagine – until I tasted it and was blown away.
Curries abound, as are vegetables – eggplants, peppers, mushrooms. They are everywhere. And fried banana with ice cream is a dish eaten in the upper hyperion of Heaven. Watered down, definitely with more Thai iced coffee. Who needs to sleep in paradise?
Merrill Shindler is an independent Los Angeles-based food critic. Send an email to [email protected]
- Evaluation: 3 stars
- Address: 3713 Highland Ave., Manhattan Beach
- Information: 424-237-2180; www.nawathai.com
- Food: Modern Thai
- When: Lunch and dinner, every day
- Details: Thai juices, sodas and iced tea and iced coffee; large reservations
- Atmosphere: One of the best Thai restaurants in South Bay – if not the best – has a large menu of food that will appeal to everyone and plenty of classics, eaten inside and out.
- Prices: About $ 25 per person
- Suggested dishes: 12 entrees ($ 9 to $ 14), 6 noodle soups ($ 15 to $ 23), 4 salads ($ 11 to $ 17), 4 fried rice dishes ($ 15 to $ 23), 3 noodle dishes ( $ 15 to $ 23), 8 à la carte dishes ($ 115- $ 23), 5 curries ($ 15- $ 23), 6 special dishes ($ 14- $ 23), 7 desserts ($ 5- $ 12)
- Credit card: MC, V