Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Why I Should (Or Shouldn't) Be Asked For "Things To See And Do In L.A.": Singapore's Banana Leaf, Los Angeles

I had to go to
the Grove last week. Not because I wanted to, but because I had to purchase a book that I had on hold at Barnes and Noble, else I would have stayed at home. I actually detest this shopping center--the Disneyland of shopping malls I call it--because quite frankly, it sucks. It sucks for me as an efficient shopper because it has stores that are visually appealing but that stock horrible assortments of merchandise. It also sucks because it's crowded and the parking's atrocious. I would never voluntarily choose to go here. Not now. Not ever.

But that's just me. If I were from elsewhere, I dunno, say visiting from Shanghai, China or Kansas City, Missouri or something, then maybe I'd think The Grove was the best thing since sliced bread. Those people want the double decker trolley and the night-time water fountain shows. They enjoy the live cover bands on the weekends. They want the tourist trap chain restaurants like Cheesecake Factory and Wood Ranch BBQ. They like the fact that the Banana Republic and Gap here look so much nicer than the usual Banana Republic and Gap in their shopping mall back home. People who shop here are usually tanned, made up, dressed to the tee. "This must be where the rich people shop," they say, "This is L.A."

I guess if you you're a person like me--a person who hates places like the Grove--then you may as well make the best of it. Being a tourist in your own city is fun at times, if not for the novelty and the excitement, then at least for sheer observational purposes. Last night, Isaac and I had a blast staring at all the people that were staring in awe at the things the we don't think are awesome. (Did that make any sense?) Like why is the flashy couple with the two three year old twins dressed in toddler-sized True Religion jeans and holding the dog who had its butt and legs shaved to look like it was wearing furry thigh high boots cool??? Shoot, maybe this is L.A.

We also made the best of our weeknight out at the attention-whore capital by not having dinner alfresco at one of the attention-whore restaurants ("Look Honey! That must be fun--having dinner right along the pathway where everyone enters and exits the parking garage! I want to do that next time we're in LA!") and instead walking right past all the retail flagship stores to the
Farmer's Market which is somewhat of a tourist destination I'll agree, but in a much more un-Grove way.

I've always liked the Farmer's Market; I know that the food here can be hit or miss depending on the stand, but still, walking around from stall to stall deciding if I should eat Brazilian or Mexican or Korean or Cajun and then deciding if I should get a pastry or perhaps a bag of candy to take home makes me a happy camper.

Last night, I decided to go off the beaten path a little and order my dinner from Singapore's Banana Leaf, the Singaporean/Malaysian/Indonesian stand located only several yards from yet still tucked away from all the hustle and bustle of the more popular Loteria Grill, Pampas Grill, and
Gumbo Pot.

I was in one of those "I'm hungry and indecisive" type of moods where I wanted everything on the menu, so fortunately service was patient and friendly--the long coiffed guy working the counter waited and answered all my questions as I wavered back and forth over their menu selections. I wished to God that Isaac hadn't had a Cajun craving and walked over to the Gumbo Pot. I wish he had stayed so that I could order more stuff. But no, it would be Banana Leaf for just one tonight, so would I go for the Rojak Salad of cucumber, jicama, pineapple, bean sprouts, apple, tofu and spinach tossed with a spicy tamarind dressing that Pat of Eating L.A. loved so much? Or perhaps a Gado Gado salad of vegetables, egg and tofu topped with peanut sauce? They sounded delicious, but unfortunately, the weather was a bit chilly even for L.A., so I needed somthing somewhat toastier. So then would I perhaps order some spicy Rendang, an Indonesian style curry made with chicken or beef, coconut, chili, lemongrass, galangal and ginger, amongst other things?

Actually, as good as everything sounded, I was craving something a little more dry grilled that evening so I went with the ever-so-simple choice of beef satay. For a Farmer's Market food stand--a non-full service eating establishment--my beef satay plate was artfully arranged, skewers pointing outward, atop a banana leaf. The beef quality was decent but not excellent, perhaps a little too much fat in a couple places, but the overall flavor was pretty good--browned in all the right places with hints of coconut, ginger and chili. The dish came with a side of peanut dipping sauce which was I enjoyed because it wasn't one of those overly pasty peanut buttery sauces. It was a little thinner, with a little touch of spiciness and oiliness, and (yes!) real bits of peanuts. Fragrant jasmine rice and slices of cool cucumber helped to round the dish out.

I was still cursing Isaac for having gone elsewhere to fetch his dinner, but I was still able to wrangle up a small side dish to go with my satay. Banana Leaf's Roti Paratha reminded me a little of the Chinese
scallion pancakes that I love so much only without the scallions. The crispy outer layer of our two grilled round flatbreads revealed a layer of thin but fluffy bread in the center, great for sopping up the side of fragrant curry sauce that came with.

If the dishes I described don't float your boat, there are certainly a few other options on Banana Leaf's menu that may. They serve Otak-Otak, minced sole grilled in banana leaf, as an appetizer. Mee Goreng, Indonesian pan fried noodles, and Nasi Goreng, an Indonesian fried rice, seem to be hearty choices. Curry Laksa, rice noodles served in a coconut curry broth with tofu and beansprouts could have been a total possibility on a chilly February evening. Judging from the two dishes I tried tonight, which weren't knock-my-socks-off-good, but that were pretty decent, I'd come back to try more.

So which is a better representation of LA...The Grove or The Farmer's Market food stalls? That's up to you. But ask me to be tourist in my own city for one night and I would totally choose this over the Banana-Republic-On-Steroids and the double decker trolley any day.

Singapore's Banana Leaf at The Farmer's Market
6333 W. 3rd St.
Los Angeles, CA 90036
(323) 933-4627


Jeni said...

Girl I'm feeling you on the Grove. I have actually stopped shopping at malls in general. They all look the same to me...you know that Westfield look. I'm all about supporting the indie designers at sample sales...kinda like supporting mom and pop restaurants. :)

Singapore Banana Leaf looks yummy. I'll hit that place up when my OC friends come into town for Maggiano's at the Grove. ??? Yea, I don't understand them.

rick james said...

on the subject of crappy places to be for an evening please place under "The Spectrum" of Irvine on that list... i'd rather go to forest lawn than spend the day there...

i guess any place they have a PF Changs or Louise's Barforria you gotta ask the question why the hell am i here?

BoLA said...

I've always LOVED the Farmer's Market. My family and I get fresh fruits there every weekend, and I absolutely love the Pork Fried Rice at the China Depot - a little spicy and oh so tasty! Was disappointed the last time I went to Gumbo Pot and have always wanted to try the Singapore Banana Leaf! Thanks for reminding me that I need to have lunch there soon! ;)

yoony said...

wow you took the words out of my mouth, "disneyland." i hate this place. it's really filled with obnoxious lunatics. after the grove was built, going to the farmer's market has been such a chore. but now that you are posting about banana leaf i'm craving their rojak and laksa and may brave the touristy money flaunting folks. yummy! (the food that is).

elmomonster said...

I have only been to the LAFM a few times, but before Banana Leaf opened...It sounds like they have faithful representations of Indonesian food. Perhaps worth the drive and the parking headache...

Daily Gluttony said...


Yes, boutiques rock! And I love that not as many people will have on what you're wearing. ;)

I'd definitely choose the FM over Maggiano's.


Never been to the Spectrum, but if it's anything like the Grove, I'll stay away.


Never tried the pork fried rice @ china depot before. Looks like I'm gonna have to try that next time!


Yeah, the Grove is a pain in the arse. I try to hit the FM on offpeak times only...the crowds are so obnoxious.


I'd like to see what you think since you're the Indonesian food guru! Actually, I don't have that many benchmarks, so I'm gonna make it a point to go out and try more so I know which place is best!

eatdrinknbmerry said...

When i worked off wilshire, i loved going to the LAFM only for the Brazilian BBQ joint. As pricey as it was, it was still good food. After they built the grove, i completely avoided it.

Steve Wasser said...

Love your article!

Ach, don't get me started about the Grove. A simulated society with limited shopping. To keep it real, you can even potentially get run over every 20 minutes. I have lived in LA seven years and I still get lost in the Farmers Market, but I know how to make my way to Messeiur Mercel!