I have so much going on, with so many people, in so many places. It's a little, well, ricockulous.
Let's just say that if you have "bi'ness" to do in or around 3rd Street Promenade, Monsoon Cafe is a good place to do it. It's at the far north end of the Promenade, near Wilshire Boulevard, so it doesn't get the same kind of chaotic tourist foot traffic as some of the other places on the inside blocks, and the restaurant has a lot of places to hide, whether it's blending in at the bar, settling into the darkness in the dining room, or sitting out on the patio. Sometimes, they say, out in the open is the best place to hide.
I had never been to Monsoon, often confusing it with that other tropical weather restaurant, Typhoon, at the Santa Monica Airport. Typhoon hit major turbulence with me, and since I just illogically associated the two, I never thought to give Monsoon a chance. This was the chance.
We decided to meet there because it is close enough to the office that I could break away from the grind for a moment, then return later in the evening to churn through more work. Little did we know that Happy Hour at Monsoon starts early. Of course, Happy Hour at 4 PM is standard everywhere else in the civilized world except southern California.
Now if I were a smart restaurateur, I would follow Monsoon's seemingly successful lead by offering a 4 PM Happy Hour. When we got there, the front bar area of the restaurant was already full -- tourists at a tolerable level, ladies who lunch and lush, and the business casual set. I have to say, I have become rather immune to tourists since I started working on the Promenade, and the ladies who lunch were not unusual (hell, I used to be one). It was the business casual boys who got my attention. They were not the wrinkle-free Dockers and brandless pique polo drones. These were lightly graying temples. *sigh* Suits with no ties. *sigh* Cufflinks. *sigh* Button down shirts with monograms. *thud* I have this unbearable weakness for button-down dress shirts that makes me fall over, y'all, that I just can't explain.
Okay, I can, but I shan't.
Now, if I were a smart restaurateur, I would flatter Monsoon Cafe by imitating their 4PM Happy Hour, but I most certainly would not flatter myself by serving the food that Monsoon does, nor in the way that they do it. Monsoon Cafe is what some people call "Pan-Asian," which is often confused with Asian Fusion, but make no mistake. Asian Fusion means an Asian cuisine is con-fused with another entirely different cuisine, though technically, it could be another Asian cuisine. Do we need some examples?
Yes, we don't. Most commonly (at least in these parts) Asian Fusion incorporates Asian with that other somewhat confusing cuisine, "California." Avocado eggrolls are Cal-Asian (who decided that it shouldn't be Asi-fornian?). Avocado eggrolls are also from Cheesecake Factory, so that is a bad example, which is perfect. Asian can also be confused with other Asian. For example, Galbee Pad Thai? I have never seen Galbee Pad Thai, but doesn't it sound horrible? Exactly my point. (By the way, I am chewing two pieces of nicotine gum at once, which answers your "Why so aggro, Sarah?")
I don't really notlove Asian Fusion. I love all of the individual Asian cuisines except anything from southeast Asia, for which I am developing a tolerance, and for Goodness' sake, I almost pass for Asian on the outside. However, it is very very very totally rare that I have experienced a restaurant that can successfully pull off multiple Asian cuisines under one roof.
Monsoon is not one of those rare cases.
The Happy Hour bar menu has eveything you would expect from a Pan Asian restaurant – cheap things that are easy to eat in a crowded, chaotic bar scene. The skin of the Fried Wontons was thick and chewy, unneccesary since there was hardly any filling inside that could potentially burst through. The wontons did have a lovely color though, and I’ll just consider that too much oil made them “glossy.” I’m sure they left a lovely sheen on my lips, too.
Vegetable Maki weren’t bad, and I especially appreciated that the chefs made the outer layer of rice thin. A roll burdened with a heavy layer of rice is one of my pet peeves. Either a restaurant is cheap and packs a roll with less expensive rice rather than other ingredients, or the chefs are incompetent and have trouble rolling maki without the sturdiness of a thick coat of rice. The real problem with Monsoon’s vegetable maki was the presentation. Yellowish avocado that had smeared during cutting and plating looked like a sloppy mess of mustard on the rolls.
It’s not like I would swear off a restaurant based solely on their Happy Hour menu, so I went back to try a full meal in the dining room. While a sub-par bar menu is tolerable because it’s cheap, a sub-par dinner experience is not. The Tom Yum soup almost made me swear off Thai food again. To make it easier on ourselves, we did the Trio of Appetizers – Tuna Crab Eggroll, Wontons, and Wonton Tuna Decker – as well as an order of Vegetarian Samosa.
I suppose I should have assumed that the wontons would be the same, but I thought that perhaps the kitchen had just been plagued with slammage during happy hour and would do better during the r
egular dinner hour. Not so. At least in the darkness of the strangely Asian Island themed dining room, I couldn’t see how oily they were.
The Wonton Tuna Decker alternates layers of deep-freid wonton skins, tuna, and a disproportionate amount of a mysterious sauce that was probably mayonnaise, sour cream, and chives. The sauce was not doing its job of acting as morter for the layers, as the tower was leaning dangerously to one side and threatening to topple over with the first attempt at taking a reasonable bite. The Wonton Tuna Decker has its place in the Top Ten Most Overdone Pan Asian Fusion Dishes of all time along with miso marinated cod and wasabi scented mashed potatoes. It’s time to let it go.
The online menu has it listed as the Tuna Crap Eggroll. I don’t think it’s a typo. The poor thing, despite a decent presentation of standing on end, exposing a bias-cut, the Tuna Crab Eggrolls were terrible. I can’t go into detail about why. They just were.
Supposedly, Samosa served in a Pan-Asian restaurant on tourist-trap 3rd Street Promenade are the best samosas ouside India, as per Monsoon’s menu. Oh, really? The best samosas outside of India? That makes me want to never go to India.
The food at Monsoon is unmistakably bad. However, I appreciate the fact that it provides me with an “office” where I can run off to do some strategizing, undetected and uninterrupted by the day-to-day chaos of being in the real office. In fact, with all the dress shirts in the bar, it sort of does feel like an office. With wine. And corporate eye candy.
1212 3rd Street Promenade (near Wilshire Blvd)
Santa Monica, CA 90401