The Natural Way
Family brings history to healthy cooking
By Tessa Marguerite Outland
The family legacy runs between a village restaurant in Thailand and Midtown, where customers feast on tasty dishes created from farmers market produce with spices grown around the world.
Suleka Sun-Lindley is owner and chef of Veg Café, which sits atop Thai Basil, her other restaurant at 25th and J streets. She grew up in Northeastern Thailand, watching her mother and aunts pick fresh produce from an outdoor market for their restaurant nearby.
Sun-Lingley recalls getting up at 4 a.m. to visit the market, buy vegetables and fruit, and return to the kitchen before 8 a.m. to cook for the morning crowd. In the afternoon, they would hit the market again for fresh dinner ingredients.
“It’s like a homemade Panda Express,” Sun-Lindley laughs as she describes her family’s business in Thailand, which has operated for 50 years and is now run by relatives. “I always check out what they do and pick their brains on recipes. My family’s very into food. That’s all we talk about when we get together.”
At age 19, Sun-Lindley came to the United States, where her mom and sister lived. She got a restaurant serving job while studying environmental design at UC Davis. In 1994, the women opened Thai Basil Roseville, one of the first Thai restaurants in Placer County. “Nobody even knew what Thai food was at the time, so it was our job to educate customers on what we are and how our food is different from Chinese,” Sun-Lindley says.
Thai Basil’s menu features traditional Thai dishes, such as curries, rice and noodles, soups and fresh salads. Pad kee mow (drunken noodles) is a spicy combination of wok-fried fresh flat rice with chopped garlic, chilies, tomatoes and Thai basil, served over a bed of lettuce and bean sprouts. One specialty is kow pad sapparod (pineapple fried rice). This dish is a traditional Thai-style fried rice with chicken and shrimp, egg, pineapple, onions, golden raisins and dried cranberries, topped with cashews.
Desserts at Thai Basil are equally enticing. Take the sweet tropical grill—grilled mango, banana and pineapple in butter rum sauce with coconut, mango, ube or vanilla ice cream.
The Veg Café menu combines Sun-Lindley’s appreciation for traditional cooking, her Ayurveda medicinal philosophy of “mindful eating” and her passion for food. “I wanted to focus on world cuisine rather than just Thai food like Thai Basil,” Sun-Lindley says. “Like healthy food from India, Korea, Italy, France and the Mediteranian. We do it all and use a lot of spices and herbs, tamarind, truffle oil, all plant-based.”
Sun-Lindley recalls when she proposed the idea of a vegetarian restaurant in 2016, her sister teased her saying, “If you don’t have any meat no one will come!” She tried it anyway and succeeded.
The Veg focus is on physical and mental health. The menu changes almost weekly depending on what’s in season and available. In addition to shopping at farmers markets, Sun-Lindley sources directly from Red Tower Farm in Elk Grove. “Sometimes I just ask them to bring whatever they have and we plan the menu around it,” Sun-Lindley says.
The grilled peach and goat cheese salad is a seasonal concoction of creamy sunflower seed dressing, mixed greens, beet puree, pickled radishes, fried capers, goat cheese, mustard oil, poached green almonds, roasted rosemary beets, toasted almonds and grilled peach.
Seasonal crepes were the first thing on the menu at Veg Café. The crepes are made without eggs and filled with seasonal vegetables. The summer crepe combines fried tofu, bok choy, spring onions, sugar peas, shiitake mushrooms, bean sprouts, thai basil and purple cabbage sauteed in a miso garlic sauce. All that is packed into a turmeric chickpea crepe, served with chili lime vinaigrette, pickled carrots and pickled onions.
“It’s our philosophy (to serve) according to season,” Sun-Lindley says. “That’s what nature is telling you your body needs.”
Tessa Marguerite Outland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.