8 years ago
|Andrew MacLeod Doerschuk , a Professional Reviewer, wrote:||
By Andrew MacLeod Doerschuk, Mountain View Voice (Nov 20, 2009)
"Nothing will benefit human health and increase the chances for survival of life on Earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet."
This quotation by Albert Einstein greets patrons at Garden Fresh, a vegan Chinese restaurant in Mountain View. It is followed by pearls of vegetarian wisdom from great thinkers as diverse as Gandhi, Pythagoras, Tolstoy and da Vinci. Above the panel of quotes sits a jovial little Buddha figure.
For the less philosophical, a "Vegetarian Starter Kit" by PETA is also available as you walk in. The pamphlet quotes celebrities such as Pamela Anderson, Natalie Portman and Paul McCartney in advocacy of the vegetarian lifestyle.
All this literature might make some think twice about what goes into their bodies. But nothing persuades as convincingly as a satisfying meal. I am not a strict vegetarian but I prefer high-quality vegetarian food over meat when it's available. Going vegetarian doesn't have to feel like a sacrifice, especially when the food is good as it is at Garden Fresh.
The "Vegi Mongolian Chicken" ($6.95 lunch, $8.95 dinner), for example, will never pass for real chicken, but its lightness and ability to thoroughly absorb seasoning make it a great alternative. The dish is made of soybean gluten, a vegetable protein (not to be confused with the gluten found in wheat or rye). It is served with sauteed onions and other noodle-like ornaments, all in chef Robert Liang's special spicy sauce, which characterizes many of the dishes.
Even selecting "medium spicy" gives the lips a scintillating burn — and accidentally biting into one of the tiny red peppers that are thrown into the mix could scald the palate for days to come.
Liang and his wife Roberta are originally from Taiwan, where they belonged to a sect of Buddhism that discourages meat consumption as part of its philosophy of nonviolence. Today the pair runs this modest restaurant, which has moved up and down the Peninsula over the years and currently resides on the corner of Miramonte Avenue and El Camino Real, neighboring a Baskin-Robbins, a pool supply shop, an Army surplus store and a dive bar.
Far from upscale or artsy, the Garden Fresh decor is very simple. The food, however, is excellent and appropriately priced; it doesn't need visual pizzazz or a chic location to make up for anything.
Hostess Alice Liang welcomes patrons to the tiny restaurant with bright hospitality. She seems to remember customers after their second visit, chats about family and business, and is quick to make recommendations. Complimentary soup is served almost instantly — a choice of hot-and-sour soup or the corn-and-tofu chowder. The chowder is soothingly delicate, so make sure to eat it on a clear palate. An extra serving of thick brown rice ($1.50) is recommended with most dishes to soak up the sauces.
The menu features a large selection of mostly East Asian food but also includes the vegi burger with vegetable ($4.50) and Indian dishes such as vegetarian curry chicken (or, if you prefer, "chicken," with quotes around the word) ($6.45 lunch, $8.95 dinner). Moo shu rolls ($2.50) served in translucent wrapping make for fragrant and refreshing appetizers. Spring rolls ($4.50), often available as vegetarian options even in regular Chinese restaurants, are less greasy than usual at Garden Fresh.
But the greatest masterpiece on the menu is the orange vegetarian steak ($9.95), made with homemade shiitake mushroom with orange-flavored sauce and served with steamed broccoli. The shiitake mushroom steak doesn't resemble regular mushrooms in the slightest; its texture is thick and chewy, but not gamy like real steak. The citrus is balanced with an element of spiciness and almost smothering sweetness. Best of all, this "steak" is free of those jelly-like fat deposits found in beef.
The food arrives with amazing speed, by the way. The receipt is written in Chinese, which makes it hard to decode, but by the time the bill arrives I am always too full and satisfied to worry about it.
The clientele at Garden Fresh, seated in close quarters due to the rather cramped dining area, is very mixed. The restaurant draws vegetarians of various persuasions — their eating habits may be based on health, religious, ethical or environmental concerns. But whatever their background, herbivores and carnivores alike return to Garden Fresh for the taste.
There is a certain machismo associated with eating red meat that vegetarian food will probably never satisfy. But men comfortable enough with their masculinity to enter a vegetarian restaurant will be rewarded by hearty, interesting selections. Indeed, Garden Fresh routinely wins the Voice's "Best of Mountain View" award for Best Vegetarian Restaurant. Its success has led to a second location, slated to open early next year on the corner of Ramona Street and University Avenue in Palo Alto.
Garden Fresh is healthy, delicious and environmentally conscious. Now if only we can get them to quit using Styrofoam take-out containers.