Scotts Valley’s Jia Tella’s offers diverse tastes and plenty of history
Often when dining out, I reach a satiety point, enjoy another bite or two, and take the rest of the meal home. Occasionally however, that bite or two turns into three, four, or more, as I just can’t seem to get enough of the array of unique flavors. That was my experience at Jia Tella’s, the Cambodian restaurant tucked into a corner of the neighborhood mall that houses Scotts Valley Market.
I had enjoyed some traditional fare at Jia Tella’s soon after they opened about six years ago. The restaurant’s seating includes a good-sized patio which will be much appreciated during the warm weeks to come. Since then, they have expanded, adding an archway with swinging wooden doors into the bar next door, which is aptly named JT’s Next Door. I was also appreciative of the dinnertime table service.
Early Cambodian Khmer culture shares many elements with that of India, including architecture, alphabet and religion. The Khmer Kingdom grew to encompass Laos, Burma and Vietnam. Many recipes share elements of these cuisines, as well as adopting noodles from China to the North. The French brought new vegetables while Spaniards and Portuguese introduced peanuts and chilies from the New World, although peppers are rarely used in the kitchen.
With the long Mekong River and a season of monsoons, rice and freshwater fish are staples in the Cambodian diet. Fermented fish adds a salty element to many dishes, and meals include salty, sweet and bitter elements. Seasonal menus often include soup which is served at the same time as the meal.
Jia Tella’s has an intriguing choice of salads, including Cambodian salad with cabbage, Thai basil, noodles and peanuts with choice of protein, and fresh green papaya with green beans and tomatoes in crab sauce dressing.
We started with a Fresh Spring Roll ($2.50). A column of shrimp was visible through the glutinous rice paper wrapper. Tightly stuffed with thin noodles, crisp cucumber and mung bean sprouts, fresh basil leaves lent an exotic flavor. Chopped peanuts floated on a sweet vinegary condiment which we drizzled into the rolls.
Most dishes are available in small and large sizes. The two of us ordered three small plates which were served all at once, and, that despite my insatiable appetite allowed for two meals of leftovers. Choices of protein include pork, chicken or tofu, and occasionally catfish, beef and shrimp.
A bowl of Curry Stew ($5.50) featured chunks of potato and carrot with soft, stewed chicken. Spots of spicy oil dotted its sweet red, chili-infused coconut milk liquid.
Flat Rice Noodles ($9.25/$13.25) were mixed with broccoli and thin pieces of pork in a salty dark sauce topped with scrambled eggs. I made good use of the sriracha and chili paste spices.
I found the Stir-fried Lemongrass ($9.25/$13.25) amazingly flavored. Quarter strips of crisp white onion, serrated carrots, green beans, chicken and red chili carried a mildly salty and earthy lemongrass flavor.
Jia Tella’s, 18 Victor Square, Scotts Valley, 438-5005. Full bar. Open Sunday through Thursday from 11 a.m. until 9 p.m., and Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. until 10 p.m. Visit jiatellas.com.