Night+Market Sahm (Los Angeles, December 2018)

The original Night + Market opened in West Hollywood in 2010 (I think). I think it first flashed on our consciousness a few years later. We’d been planning on eating there ever since but somehow never got around to it—don’t feel too bad for us: we were mostly feeding our Thai food desires at Jitlada at the time. Somewhere in there they opened a second location in Silverlake (NIght + Market Song) but between menus that did not seem particularly kid-friendly and a no-reservations policy at Song, we never got around to it—it didn’t help that Luv2Eat opened in that period. Last year they opened their third location, Sahm, in Venice, and despite the fact that it’s the furthest of their outposts from our usual base of operations in Koreatown, that ended up being our first-ever Night+Market meal. We ate it as our last meal of 2018, in the early evening after a day spent with the kids on the beach and at the Santa Monica pier. I would love to say that our first Night+Market experience and our last meal of 2018 was great but, alas, it was not. That is not to say that it was bad; it was not bad, but it was, in our opinion, far from the quality of the best in Thai Town.

Now, a few caveats are appropriate here. The first is that Night+Market in general is not striving to be a traditional Thai restaurant in the mold of Jitlada or Luv2Eat (or Sapp or Pailin). This is Thai food refracted through the prism of hipster small plates dining; the food is recognizably Thai but it is aimed primarily at non-Thai diners outside Thai Town. This is true, as far as I can make out, not only of Sahm in Venice but also of Song and the original location. You can see this marked in the aesthetic of the restaurant, in the natural wine list, and, of course, you can see it simply by looking to see who is dining at the tables around you. None of this necessarily means disappointing food—and indeed we liked some of the things we ate a lot—but, on the whole, we felt there was nothing here that we hadn’t eaten better versions of in Thai Town. Of course, the ambience here is very different than in the average Thai Town spot, and if you want to go out for a good Thai meal in hip surroundings, it is hard to say why that shouldn’t be an available option. The key, I guess, is to have properly calibrated expectations. The second caveat is that the menus at the three locations are not at all identical, and so our meal at Sahm may not be indicative at all of what is on offer at the other two locations (both of which are far closer to Thai Town).

I certainly hope that the service at Sahm is not indicative of what’s on offer at the other two locations. They were not yet full when we arrived for dinner (at 5.30; we had a reservation) but they were already harried and all over the place. I don’t know if they were understaffed but service was almost comically bad. It took a while to get anyone’s attention to order, it was hard to get anyone’s attention after that, we were given no rice and it took asking two separate servers if it was coming before it did (a good while after we asked) and so on.

But what, you may be wondering, did we eat?

  • Gai Tod Naeng Noi; This was for the boys: crisply-fried and sliced chicken thighs served with a dipping sauce. The dipping sauce was tasty, the chicken had little character without it. The boys enjoyed it though. This plus rice is mostly what they ate.
  • Pork toro: I had read good reports of this dish of grilled, fatty pork neck but sadly what showed up was some over-cooked and overly-chewy slices of pork. The dipping sauce was very good but the pork itself left us wishing for the dish it could have been if grilled with more care.
  • Moo sadong: However, this dish of their so-called “startled pig”, a salad of grilled pork with rice powder, lemongrass, lime, chilli etc. was rather good.
  • Khao soi rib: On paper this seemed like a sure thing but what showed was too heavy, missing the acid/brightness that adds counterpoint to excellent khao soi such as the one at Pailin. Indeed, I’d say that the khao soi at the Twin Cities’ Bangkok Thai Deli is better and that’s not a sentence I ever expected to type about any dish at one of Los Angeles’ more vaunted Thai restaurants.
  • Sweet potato massaman: This take on massaman curry seemed similarly intriguing on paper but also disappointed in reality. The sauce was too cloying and “dark” in terms of flavours and the sweet potato made it more cloying still.
  • Cloud Bay clams: Thankfully, this excellent dish from the specials menu of plump clams stir-fried in what I will lazily call a red curry sauce ended the meal on a high note.

Launch the slideshow for a look at the restaurant and the food; scroll down for more on service and price and to see what’s coming next.

Service, as I said, was chaotic from beginning to end. I can only imagine how much worse it must have gotten after we left—there were lots of people waiting. I also want to mention the bottles of water they place on the table: they are massive and god help you with pouring from them if you have carpal tunnel syndrome. The bag in which they packed our small boxes of leftovers was likewise ludicrously large. I guess this must all be ironic or something.

Anyway, all of the food above, a beer and a soft drink, and tax came to $110. After tip we were at $130. That seemed very high for the quality of what we ate; though it is probably well within reason for the kind of restaurant it is. We’re certainly not in a hurry to go back to Sahm on our next trip or three, though we’re open to giving one of the other locations a try. It also made us want to go eat at a more old-school Thai Town place before we left and we did that a few days later. That’ll be my next review from the Los Angeles trip. Before that I’ll have a review of a far fancier meal in Minneapolis and perhaps the long-threatened third installment in my series on Indian food writing in the US.

(Oh yes, good luck finding parking!)

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