Z: While Thuong and his wife Thu are Vietnamese, their varied menu is as eclectic as our global-savvy city of Los Angeles. Pasta dishes announce their distinct Italian roots; noodle dishes and stir fries reflect the Far East influence; and burgers and fries tell an American story. The bulk of the offerings are definitively Vietnamese, Chinese, and Thai, supplemented with French and Mexican items.
R: The simple, but warm ambience is inviting with real cloth napkins in a straw yellow tone and tablecloths the color of hay. Bamboo placemats define each place setting complete with tasteful, fine quality flatware. Rich wood paneling covers the bottom half of the walls with the upper portion glowing in soft tones of lemon yellow and avocado green that match the padded booths along the walls. The restaurant seats about 45 diners.
Z: I couldn't help noticing the unique wood treatment on the floors, while the attractive vaulted ceiling was lined in what appeared to be cherry wood paneling with a characteristic oak grain. Small droplights appear over each booth, while diffused lighting around the ceiling perimeter brings a soft glow to the room.
R: Green Earth has those little touches that distinguish it from an informal cafe or a casual dining house. Even the menu, tucked into an elegant vinyl-bound notebook, indicates the restaurant aims to create a fine dining experience. The Quinoa Sushi, our first choice for a starter, arrived on an attractive square platter. Our first bite brought a delightful surprise--the quinoa was pleasingly warm and filled with carrots, sprouts, cucumbers, and mushrooms. Served with soy-based dipping sauce, the unique sushi was a creative beginning. Several of the appetizers appealed as well, but we'll save the Bruschetta, Sweet Potato Fries, Summer Rolls, and Golden Wontons for other visits.
Z: Thuong emerged from the kitchen carrying a dish so attractive we nearly sprang from our seats to get a better look. Well, Reuben actually did jump up and followed Thuong to another table to take a photo of the Crispy Chow Mein, a dazzling ring of deep fried yellow noodles topped with colorful stir-fried vegetables and soy protein.
R: Our Spinach Asparagus Soup was a deliciously thick, gorgeous green puree. It was light, and delicately seasoned to retain the integrity of the vegetables, and practically melted in the mouth.
Z: Looking forward to our Spicy Indian Curry marked on the menu with a chile symbol, we requested the soy chuck'un in place of the tofu and expected a dish with some heat. Timid about seasoning their dishes to their familiar cranked-up level of spice, Thuong explained it was "American spicy," in other words, rather mild. We suggest you request "spicy" if you like your dishes fiery. We loved the saucy, colorful, and tasty yellow curry flavor and dug into our chunks of zucchini and potatoes, julienne red bell peppers and carrots, and the generous serving of imitation chicken chunks made by Gardein.
R: A dish that offers praiseworthy sweet, spicy, and salty flavor balance, Three Flavors, is one of Green Earth's more popular dishes featuring one of my favorite vegetables-Japanese eggplant. Combined with pumpkin and king oyster mushrooms and accented with red onion, basil leaves, and firm tofu slices, the medley was bathed in a lightly sweetened and lightly spiced chef's sauce.
Z: On our second visit we met our friends Eric and Diana and sampled a broader array of items to share. The Tom Yum Soup is awesome! This time the chile symbol was true to its notation. The soup was not only well spiced but also packed with veggies and flavored with such addictive seasonings that I actually spooned up a second bowl.
R: We all gave the soup an instant thumbs up and agreed it was exceptional. Eric was tempted by the salads and chose the Wild Field Greens, a richly endowed array of baby lettuces, bean sprouts, sliced cucumber halves, julienne red bell peppers, sun-dried tomato strips, and large chunks of Gardein chick'un topped with a pleasantly tangy dressing. It's refreshing to find a restaurant that serves salads with much more than just a few greens.
Z: The Lasagne di Verdure called to us in a curious way. Could an Asian chef create a lasagne that really tasted Italian? When the dish arrived, we agreed it passed the first test. It really looked like lasagne and was baked in an oval ramekin and topped with a rich tomato sauce and Daiya cheese melted over the surface. The aroma was invitingly Italian.
R: I'll vouch for the flavor. If I didn't know I was in a Vietnamese restaurant, I could easily have thought Italian chefs had prepared the lasagne. Served with a hearty salad brightened with shredded carrots and accompanied with two pieces of garlic bread, it was pretty darned good Italian eating.
Z: The delectable Green Curry took a delicious but unexpected turn and came out a lovely hue of golden yellow. The supplier of the green curry base ran into a hitch and couldn't deliver. No problem though, because yellow curry came to the rescue and made a perfect sauce for the tofu chunks, bright green string beans, broccoli florets, green bell pepper chunks, and eggplant slices served with a mound of steamed brown rice on the side.
R: We didn't really expect to feast on desserts that day, but that's exactly what we did as we landed hands first into chocolate heaven. Chef Thu, an exceptional pastry chef, turns out an irresistibly moist and rich two-layer Chocolate Cake made with organic chocolate syrup. The Chocolate Almond Cake with Chocolate Frosting was also deliciously indulgent, moist, and enriched with a wealth of chocolate but needed a little boost of almond flavor to earn its name.
Z: As if that weren't enough, we found ourselves devouring slices of firm, creamy, satiny smooth Cheesecake drizzled with chocolate syrup and Chocolate Cheesecake with the same drizzled finishing touch. All the desserts we enjoyed are housemade and gastronomically exhilarating. Chocolate high, anyone?
R: Thuong and Thu are a well-seasoned duo and have worked at Thu's family's Green Earth vegetarian restaurants in Toronto and Ottawa. The pair has conceived a well-rounded menu that even includes burgers and sandwiches. Prices are reasonable and service is always with a smile. Street parking is plentiful and the Metro Gold Line is only a 2 1/2-block walk.
Z: Menu pricing is as follows: Appetizers $3.95 to $8.25. Soups $7.95 to $9.50. Salads $8.25 to $8.50. Main Dishes $7.95 to $11.50. Burgers $8.25 to $8.95. Desserts $4.25 to $5.50. Fresh juices and Smoothies $4.25 to $5.95.
37 S. Fair Oaks Ave., Pasadena, CA 91105
Reviewed July 2010