Z: San Gabriel Plaza, a two-story outdoor mall, is also home to the 99 Ranch Market, a well-known Chinese supermarket that carries produce and shelf items from across the Asian region and attracts a large crowd of shoppers. Though the parking lot is spacious, it was challenging to find a space on this busy Saturday night.
R: We joked about coming from VegParadise and going UP to Vege Paradise located on the second floor. Though it's been in this location for six years, we hadn't heard any buzz about it. Because we didn't have reservations and it was a Saturday night, we wondered if there would be a table for us.
Z: We were immediately seated and greeted with a pot of steaming hot tea and two small Chinese handleless teacups. We happily sipped while exploring the huge menu listing over 200 items. The three large flat-screen TVs featuring gorgeous photos of the menu items were a huge help in decision-making, as was May, our friendly and knowledgeable server.
R: We decided to start with Sautéed Turnip Patties and ordered Soft Tofu and Pumpkin with Brown Sauce in Hot Pot, Singapore Style Fried Rice Noodles, and Buddha's Feast. While waiting for our meal, we had an opportunity to look around the large dining room and noticed it's almost round. The décor, pleasing with many Asian touches, was tasteful and unfussy.
Z: I appreciated the carpeted floor that helped to keep the noise level comfortable, even though nearly every table was filled with diners. There were cozy booths along the walls and round wooden tables throughout the interior. The light celadon green walls and bright lighting throughout the room kept it cheery, especially with accent walls of Chinese red.
R: May delivered the Turnip Patties consisting of six large, white, golden-crusted, diamond-shaped wedges that were 1/2-inch thick. The patties were attractively presented on a rectangular white platter with a recessed area at one end for the dipping sauce. The patties looked like they were standing at attention, placed on end with their points facing upward.
Z: The first bite was heavenly, the second and third even better. We totally fell in love with this light, rice-battered turnip appetizer that was divinely crisp on the outside and creamy soft on the inside. The turnip flavor was pleasing, yet not overpowering.
R: When they arrived at the table, I thought we would likely take half of them home. Instead, we devoured them all! The Soft Tofu and Pumpkin Hot Pot was also exceptional. Attractively arranged in the hot pot were tender, thin slices of pumpkin, very possibly kabocha squash still wearing its skin, and large chunks of fried tofu bathed in a flavorful brown sauce. The cast iron hot pot that held the pumpkin and tofu was sitting in a recessed hole cut into a thick wooden stand and kept the food hot throughout the meal.
Z: We would definitely recommend this dish along with the Turnip Patties--they're not common items found on most Chinese restaurant menus. The flavors and textures were pure paradise. The Singapore Rice Noodles were angel-hair thin and were heaped high onto a square white platter. Embedded in the noodle stack were julienne slivers of carrot, green onion, shiitake mushroom, and a few veggie shrimps. This unique noodle dish was very lightly sauced and delicately seasoned with a hint of spice.
R: Our remaining choice, the Buddha's Feast was a veggie lover's banquet of perfectly sautéed broccoli, baby bok choy, carrots, button mushrooms, shiitake mushrooms, snow peas, and lotus root, along with chunks of fried soft tofu. Pleasantly seasoned and attractively presented, this dish added the veggie balance to complete the meal.
Z: We asked May what Chinese dessert she would recommend and went with her suggestion of White Jelly Fungus with Red Date. It was nothing like we imagined. A light brown soupy concoction arrived in a cute little footed bowl with a saucer underneath. May brought two small soup bowls and Chinese soupspoons along with a small dish of orange wedges. This dish can be ordered hot or cold. We asked for it hot like May suggested.
R: The dessert was delicately sweetened and dotted with white nuts and jujube date halves. Far different from any typical American dessert, it was the perfect ending to an exceptional meal.
Z: We observed other dishes brought to tables nearby and were impressed that each item arrived looking attractive and arranged with care. With a menu as large as this one, that's no easy feat. Though the restaurant is vegetarian, the servers are vegan savvy and very helpful. The menu also included a few Japanese items like sushi, teriyaki, and tempura.
R: There are so many items we've never encountered like coral seaweed, lily bulb with asparagus and white nuts, and gobo with celery. Anyone with an adventurous spirit could return again and again, and never tire of the offerings. There were 63 entrees alone, and the menu boasts no MSG!
Z: Our wonderful Vege Paradise experience concluded with traditional fortune cookies and all the tea we could desire. With fortunes that foretold "prosperity" and "reward for patience and understanding" we came away with happy smiles.
R: We were also impressed with the exceptionally reasonable prices. Japanese Courses were $2.95 to $7.50. Appetizers averaged about $7.50, Soups about $7.95 for the small size and $12.95 for a large bowl. Entrees ranged from $8.95 to $13.95, Noodle and Rice dishes were $2.95 to $15.95, and Dessert $2.50 to $17.95 for large family sizes.
Reviewed December 2014