SeaGlass by Mama
583 E. Main St., Ventura
Mama, a name ubiquitous with the downtown Ventura dining scene, has ventured into a third location, first as a Cajun-meets-Asian crab-boil joint and now settling on a vegetarian-centric concept. Will this one stick around longer than its predecessor?
Vorada “Pam” Boonklong, the Mama of Rice by Mama and Kao Ramen by Mama, recently added her name on SeaGlass, but it’s easy to be confused by what to expect inside, and vegetarian food isn’t necessarily a cuisine one would expect. Expect it, however.
On our lunchtime visit we were told that Boonklong had recently returned from Thailand, where vegetarian fare has become increasingly popular, hence the conversion of the menu from shrimp and crab to tofu, curry and other Thai specialties. There is no meat on the new menu, a bonus for us vegetarians, but don’t let that fool you: The flavors are rather powerful, intriguing and delicious.
In desperate need of an egg roll on that particular day for some reason, we dove into the appetizers and immediately placed an order for Mama’s version, mixed vegetables and glass noodles, rolled and deep-fried. Five come to an order ($8.50) alongside a sweet-and-sour sauce. We perused the menu while waiting for them to arrive and discovered some items we’d never come across in Ventura, as inundated as we are in Thai restaurants.
Meaung khum ($10), a dish of roasted coconut, mint, cashew nuts, lime, ginger and fried tofu served over a salad with tamarind sauce intrigued us; and so did the “signature” menu item, the nam-prik. There are various iterations of this dish, served with a side of steamed and fresh vegetables, all revolving around a mixture of chili paste with various additions.
As the egg rolls arrived, we put in our orders. Traditional items on the menu include the obvious pad thai with tofu or vegetables ($11.50) and red, green or yellow curries, including a sour curry ($11.50); but feeling the need for lighter fare, my companion chose the satay tofu salad ($11) and I, intrigued by the nam-prik, selected the “num” variety ($12) of the four choices.
First, the egg rolls. Crispy and savory, the veggie-and-noodle-stuffed tubes were far above average, served hot and fresh from the fryer. The sweet-and-sour sauce served alongside was a step above the competition; this is a dish I’d gladly order alone, as it was served alongside a salad, enough for a light lunchtime meal.
For the satay salad, I kind of knew what to expect. Grilled tofu, a peanut sauce, etc. Presentationwise, it exceeded my expectations, a big mound of salad ripe with cucumber and mixed greens topped by five long, thick slices of tofu fried to golden perfection, slathered in a thick peanut sauce. Two sauces came with it as well, more peanut sauce for dipping. The tofu was melt-in-your-mouth good, fried to crispy excellence, and the sauce top-notch.
As for the nam-prik, with no expectations, I was still surprised by what appeared to be crudités. In the center of the plate was a bowl filled to the brim with what appeared to be chunky guacamole, surrounded by miniature corn, steamed broccoli, carrots, a thick winter squash, sliced cucumbers and raw zucchini, cauliflower and cabbage. Initially I thought that I had ordered an appetizer by mistake, but was schooled therein: the nam-prik is a chili-based sauce or dip, a popular dish in Thailand, so arriving as it had made perfect sense.
The version I had ordered had a green curry sauce, roasted peppers and onions and various vegetables inside. To eat, I simply dolloped a bit onto one of the accompanying vegetables and went to town. The sauce was hearty and mellow with a mild spice that coats the tongue. The roasted vegetables had a slight sweetness that played well. As I worked my way around the plate, through the rainbow of accoutrements, I found that the dish was more than filling.
On the side of the SeaGlass menu, “Good for the body & mind” is written between a series of statements: “No MSG, delicious, dairy-free, animal-friendly.” I can attest to all of those statements. SeaGlass is delicious, and we left more than thrilled that Mama, whose restaurant empire includes meat-centric Thai fare and meat-broth bowls of noodles, now includes a menu dedicated to the oft-ignored vegetable, one that isn’t boring but rather innovative and interesting.
With that being said, there isn’t that much of a difference between this menu and the one found at Rice by Mama. Choosing SeaGlass would perhaps put you in good favor with your vegetarian/vegan friends, however.