One of F’s favorite places and conveniently located by his work is Vegetarian House. Actually, the restaurant is vegan, with all their dishes, which are Chinese style, using substitute meat products for the chicken, ham, beef, fish, shrimp, even squid. F usually goes for the lunch buffet, but recently we stopped by for a dinner on our way back from the convention center.
We started off by sharing the veggie chicken salad. It smells great when it arrived at the table, and the warm chicken was a nice contrast to the cool crisp salad that was dressed in a light tangy oil based dressing
His choice of entree was the veggie sesame chicken. The veggie chicken tastes just as good as it looks, though it was done extra spicy here, with the simplicity of the steamed broccoli giving you a break from the well sauced fake chicken which was cooked perfectly just like meat- it had the same texture with the crisp deep fried outside but moist inside.
Meanwhile, I went with the house special pan fried noodle. Look at that closer shot of some of the ingredients with the noodles- broccoli, carrots, mushrooms, fake chicken, fake shrimp in all its detail. Not shown- the fake ham (its the perfectly box shaped piece of meat in the previous picture of the dish). When the dish comes, it is presented on a sizzling plate with the noodles very crispy before the sauce begins to race you in absorbing the noodles, and then making this dish soggy. This probably would have been better if there had been more people sharing it to scoop out their crispy noodles immediately- and this platter is truly enough to feed a family. The fake chicken didn’t fare as well in the pan fried noodle dish as it did crisped up in the other two dishes. I couldn’t stop admiring the fake shrimp. The chef works pretty hard to make that fake shrimp look as shrimpy as it does… and it has the exact right texture, I actually was digging around looking for all the shrimp.
The interior of this place may not look like much, as the atmosphere is functional and simple. You may have mixed feelings about what is playing on the large screen TV against one wall of the room with its peace/vegetarian/Buddhist propaganda agenda. Do the vegan takes of the standard dishes stand up in terms of the flavors of an actual meat dish? Not from a good authentic restaurant, but from the average takeout place in the neighborhood when you have that craving for somewhat Americanized Chinese, yes it does, minus the grease and MSG and meat from who knows where from who knows when. A lot is depending on the dish- from my few visits, I thought the gluten fake meat works better in some preparations more than others. Crispy preparations of the fake meat in a dish generally fare better. Also, some dishes are better fresh from the kitchen because of the sauce ruining the texture or the steam in the box softening the dish. Although we made the mistake of taking the salt and pepper faux shrimp home so it was no longer fresh in terms of the breading, the taste itself was spot on.
Mostly, I admire this small business’s ethic and effort. The chef there really is a hard worker- they are open 365 days a year, 11-9, working through all holidays. The waitress even admired it- said they have only closed when the chef wanted to take off to see his daughter graduate. Same thing with the guy who usually runs the front of the house- everyday but Sunday, year round. Otherwise there they are, every day, all day, passionate about providing a full Chinese menu of all the expected options, but in an vegetarian way to save animals and encourage good health, making what difference he can in this lifetime, one dish at a time. When I first enter and leave, Vegetarian House is right next door (even sharing the same stairs) to another Chinese hole in the wall Good Taste- but this one is the type that has the Chinese duck hanging on a hook right in the front window, and maybe a crispy roast pork and bbq pork hanging right behind it… the type that in Asia would be an open air restaurant along the street…and I admit my steps slow down a bit as I feast with the eyes.
But every time I keep on walking into Vegetarian House. If you’re going to have Chinese, Vegetarian House offers the typical dishes but with extra care and concern- it’s better for your heart in more ways than one.