R: Always ready for yet another great food adventure we found ourselves in the Torrance area and remembered our friend Royce's enthusiastic comments about House of Vege, a Chinese vegetarian restaurant in Lomita.
Z: It was easy to find, right on Pacific Coast Highway practically on the border between Lomita and Torrance, just south of Crenshaw. We didn't have reservations, but that was no problem with our early dinner at 5:30 on a Sunday.
R: The restaurant, which is still fairly new at eight months old, has a bright, elegant decor. Windows along two walls bring in plenty of light and the white walls and white tablecloths covered by a glass top contribute to an airy atmosphere.
Z: I was intrigued with the bright green, jade, Chinese character in the center of a section of dark green marble tiles that dominate the back wall. Our hostess and manager of the restaurant, Jenny Ha, took pride in telling us it was the Chinese character for "vegetarian."
R: In that instant there was an unspoken feeling of comfort. Jenny brought our menus along with a special adult All You Can Eat for $9.95 menu. Here's how it works. There are 56 items to choose from, and you can order as many dishes as you like as long as you clean your plate.
Z: Actually, it's their way of discouraging one from ordering one of everything on the menu. Still, the price is reasonable and we ordered five items with Jenny's guidance. We certainly didn't have to wait long for food to appear. The dishes arrived one at a time, but in rapid succession.
R: We began with a light Corn and Tofu Soup served with a traditional Chinese soup spoon. Bits of diced tofu and corn kernels were plentiful in the vegetable base. The soup was tasty, but not incredible.
Z: We're in agreement there. The next dishes to arrive were the Vegetarian Crispy House Chicken and the Brown Rice. The menu said the portions were small so patrons could try many dishes, but we found the servings rather generous. The Vegetarian Crispy House Chicken is actually made of breaded and fried shiitake mushrooms in a brown sauce that hinted of a delicate sweet and sour flavor. It was wonderful and certainly a far cry from the typical, red, overly sweetened sweet and sour sauces served at Chinese restaurants. This dish, marked with a tiny chile pepper on the menu, had a touch of spiciness.
R: The Brown Rice was exceptional. Our waiter, Bill, actually Suh in Chinese, told us there were ten different varieties of short grain rice that ranged in color from deep brown to a tawny beige. There were no special seasonings or sauces, just a wholesome, flavorful blend of brown rice cooked to perfection.
Z: It may seem odd to expound on the details of brown rice, but it was not just another bowl of brown rice. This special blend is unavailable here. David Ha, the restaurant owner, considers it so special he imports it from China. Next came the Dry Sauteed String Bean, a must-order dish of green beans that are sauteed in a small amount of oil just until slightly softened and still quite crisp enough to retain the natural sweetness. Our kudos to chef Van Ha for carefully selecting such fresh vegetables.
R: Next came the Vegetarian Sliced Pork with Broccoli made from tofu skin and served sliced in a tasty brown sauce that did not seem to penetrate the "pork slices " which were rather tough. The broccoli, however, was delicious and was just as crisp and flavorful as the string beans.
Z: Reuben's favorite dish, the Eggplant with Basil, arrived next. It's easy to express passion about this dish. How can you miss? The angle-cut Japanese eggplant was perfectly sauteed in a soy-based sauce with a hint of sweetness. Chef Ha was quite generous with the basil that transmitted tempting aroma all the way from the kitchen. When we finished the dish, there wasn't a basil leaf to be found. We were ecstatic!
R: The last entree we ordered was the Szechuan Style Tofu with soft cubes of tofu blanketed in a spicy, well-seasoned brown sauce. It was alive with flavor yet the texture was delicate, a perfect balance and nice complement to our other selections.
Z: Our hunger well sated, we were beginning to slow down and ponder our favorites which were the Eggplant with Basil and the Vegetarian Crispy House Chicken, with the Szechuan Style Tofu running a close second. All our dishes were served with a nice touch and attentive service. The entrees themselves are presented on small white dishes that have an appealing, blue, Oriental design of lotus flowers with acantha leaves.
R: We took a moment to sit back and notice some of the restaurant's features. There are two banquet rooms, one rather sizeable, the other a small intimate room with a large round table that seats 12. Those, of course, must be reserved. The windows are covered with adjustable vertical blinds which are pretty ordinary, but the softly draped sea green valance above each window give the restaurant an upscale appearance, as did the green upholstery on the black lacquered chairs.
Z: Jenny arrived with what we thought was the finishing touch, a fresh orange cut into wedges and, of course, the traditional fortune cookies. Then she mentioned that we really should try one of their desserts, and went on to describe Sweet Rice and Red Bean Cakes. We looked at each other. Reuben smiled.
R: This was a funny moment because we almost never order dessert. Something about Jenny's description of Red Bean Cakes compelled us to order them. We only had room for one each, though there were five on the plate. What an outstanding finish! We enjoyed the rest over the next two days as our thoughts returned to that delicious meal.
Z: It's not often that one can really enjoy vegetarian dining in an elegant atmosphere. Most vegetarian restaurants tend to be rather informal. This was the exception.
R: The price was reasonable considering that we ordered dessert. The special brown rice was a little extra as well. As we left we noticed the restaurant reviews posted on the outside. Merrill Schindler gave the restaurant two and one-half stars out of a possible four. That was unfortunate. It really takes a vegetarian to appreciate good vegetarian food.
House of Vege
Reviewed November 2000