10101 venice blvd. (at clarington)
culver city, ca 90230
on the outside, natalee thai in culver city (i've also seen the one in the corner of a mini-mall at olympic and robertson) doesn’t look like at all like a thai restaurant. in fact, natalee thai doesn't look like a thai restaurant on the inside either. with its sleek silver industrial warehouse-like exterior, it looks completely out of place on venice blvd amongst a strip of indian holes-in-the-wall, liquor stores, and somewhat run-down corner plazas plastered with banners for everything from manicures to discount cell phones. the interior is just as sleek, with young, hip servers lassoed with short metallic neckties dashing around the highly modern decor, including a very non-thai sushi bar. it must be only one of few not-so-dive-y restaurants in the area, though, because at lunchtime on friday, it’s packed with power lunchers.
some of the items on the menu have annnoyingly colorful names like disco shrimp, hot stuff, and garlic goodies. overly exclamated descriptions that try too hard to sell themselves: “oh, the sauce!” on pad thai, “spectacular!” korean barbecue beef (i wasn’t aware that bulgogi was considered thai) and nutty chicken is “a sizzler!” we ordered the outrageous beef salad, chunks of iceberg lettuce surrounding a pile of thinly sliced beef, “in that crazy spicy lime sauce,” as if that dressing were something everyone knows about. sure, it was spicy, not crazy, but i didn’t think i would be talking “that” sauce up all over town.
the meats in the ruby curry and chicken panang were very tender; i'll gave them that. but the curries are the reason i don’t rave about thai food in general. although i love coconut, i am not fond of the flavor in non-desserts. and i don’t like the flavor of thai basil at all in anything. the peasant’s pleasure was just everyday fried rice with a fancy name, so i didn’t feel compelled to try it (that and the fact that i don’t eat rice, of course). thai chicken, large pieces of marinated chicken, bears a strange resemblance to tandoori chicken in its bright red color. it was served with fairly flavorful thai barbecue sauce and sweet and sour garlic plum sauce, but neither made up for the dry meat.
we had two noodle dishes, both of which were disappointing. in something natalee thai screams hi, yo! silver!, thin rice (silver) noodles were dry and clumped together, like angel hair badly in need of a deep condition. the overcooked shrimp and chicken, too, were dry. only the green onions and fresh tomatoes were truly edible. pad thai, though normally prepared with a sweet sauce, was as sweet as a dessert, and a strange color. if not for my dining companions, i would have taken photographic evidence of the hideously unnatural red noodles. they skimped on the already tiny dices of smoked tofu, and the chicken and shrimp, as well as the eggs, again, were overcooked, if not rubbery.
i’m learning to appreciate thai for what it is, but i don’t think i’m completely on the thai tip yet. perhps it's that i have not yet had fantastic thai food. yes, it’ll take some terrific thai to convert me, but i don’t think that natalee thai is the one.