When dining with a vegetarian it is nice to accommodate their dietary restrictions once in a while. Today we decided to not force our veggie friendly third to order lunch on a carnivore-full menu. We got her to suggest the venue, and I was excited to see how it stacked up in flavour. Would I be satisfied without the animal protein I unusually crave.
Parking was inconvenient. The parking out front was packed on both sides of the road, and the lot in the back had guests boxing one another in. After a few laps around the block, I was forced to park a couple of blocks away. Walking up and in, things looked a lot like your run of the mill Chinese restaurant. After you turn the corner, to avoid the glass partition, you are face to face with their restaurant’s shrine. A wooden stand home to a porcelain Buddha statue and its fruit offerings. This and the artwork pinned to walls speak to their Buddhist beliefs and inspirations. The dining room was made up of round family style tables covered in cloth, and topped with lazy susans; Familiar prosperous Chinese characters hung up for good fortune; Stone statues, jade carvings, and lucky bamboo. All the makings and markings of a traditional Chinese establishment. I was only surprised by the green of the place. A medium hue of green highlighted the room. The same green that dawned the chairs and the wall trim, was seen on the chopsticks. And a pale green found its way on to the table cloths. I thought this a clever nod to their all vegetable menu and offerings. As is the case for many Chinese restaurants, one wall was covered in mirrors, a common and easy way to give the illusion of depth in a crowded space.
The restaurant was fairly busy on a Sunday afternoon. Enough patrons to keep the staff busy, but not too much to take away from the service. George is the owner, and I believe it was he who was the one making rounds throughout the dining room today. He helped pour tea and refill our pot. He checked in on our well being and asked for feedback on the dishes. We engaged in humourous banter and he was jovial during each one. We couldn’t have asked for a more engaged business owner. Something not often seen at other Asian operated, and food focused businesses.
I was late so took no part in ordering off the thick menu. Though was surprised to see such a collection of dishes without the presence of meat. The following dishes will be described from the perspective of a omnivore, comparing them to its meat substitutes.
Stuffed wonton soup with peas. The portion was smaller, and meant to be perfectly split amongst three people. One of the many servers, helping any of the tables, was kind enough to wait for me to take pictures. She stood while I clicked, before ladling out the portions before us. The broth was light in texture and rich in flavour. Each wonton was wrapped in a doughy skin and stuffed with chunky vegetable. It didn’t taste like meat, but I didn’t miss it in its absence. I did find the pea shoots distracting and sort of out of place in the bowl. Their taste didn’t balance well, like a sore thumb.
Shredded vegetable and ginger fried rice. Similar in look and flavour to the chicken or fish version, but with ginger to give it that extra dimension, that would otherwise be missing. It was good, but used it more as a base for the other more flavourful dishes.
Shiitake mushroom and Chinese broccoli. The mushrooms were a gummy mouthful. I was unable to cut them in half, so resulted in forcing the full cap in to my mouth and down my throat, with great difficulty. As a result I only had one. Though the one cap was packed full of rich sauciness. The Chinese broccoli was as it usually is, cut up and served in large stems. Eating it requires unladylike like chomps and a tug of the jaw. And because I believe eating should be easy, I avoided this dish all together.
Colourful vegetable chop suey in bird’s nest. The variety of vegetables were chopped into bite sized pieces, they included carrots, baby corn, zucchini, mushroom, and celery. Celery was the most present in the assortment. The sesame seeds added an extra dimension of taste, and the cashew a nice sweeter crunch. There was also a pink block of imitation meat. It resembled spam in both taste and texture. As both a meat and spam lover this was a salty treat. The “nest” was deep fried greasiness. Light in texture, and bready in taste. It made for a good break from all freshness, found in the vegetables it carried. Definitely a smorgasbord of flavours and colour, as its menu-ed name promised.
Bean curd with black bean sauce. We agreed this was the best dish. Each piece of curd was likened to a sponge in texture and character. A chewy bite, that easily soaked up the savory and sweet sauce it was covered in. As the heartiest of all the dishes, this was the best one to end on. We would leave filling full. With enough leftovers for lunch for two.
Mango pudding: light, airy, and never too sweet. You can never be too full for mango pudding. It actually cleanses your palette, and for me gets me ready to eat more. This I find is especially the case at all you can eat places. With its creamy texture, I like sucking this jello like blob through a thin opening between my teeth. We were given the option of having our pudding with or without cream. I like the cream for an added sweetness.
The busing of tables and the clean up process in between guests included gathering all dish wear by the table cloth and sweeping up food off the floor. They certainly kept things at an appreciated neat and tidy level.
Would I come back? – No. Although the food was good and I left full, I am a true omnivore, if not carnivore. I was ready to gobble a large beef burger in three hours.
Would I recommend it? – Yes. The vegetarian of the group left raving about the cuisine. She enjoyed each dish and was happy to have it all again tomorrow, as leftovers. The menu was page upon page of delicious all vegetarian and vegan friendly dishes. A variety not easily found else where. The service was more than your usual order and deliver Asian style approach. The owner cared and his staff were accommodating. Don’t deny your cravings.