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Vegan for the Holidays

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Vegetarians in Paradise
 Dining in Paradise

Editors' Note: On this page in our January, 2001, issue we published a review of Tin In restaurant in Alhambra. We are sorry to report that this excellent restaurant has closed its doors. They will be missed.

In most restaurant reviews the reader sees the restaurant experience from one person's point of view. In the reviews of the Vegetarians in Paradise, the reader experiences the eatery from the point of view of two people in dialogue form. Vegetarians in Paradise brings you those two intrepid restaurant aficionados, Zel and Reuben Allen, who will take you along as they eat a swath across the Los Angeles environs.

Tin-In Restaurant R: Tin-In, a Chinese all-vegetarian restaurant, occupies an imposing Tudor-style building on the corner of West Valley Blvd. and 7th Street. The picture windows that face 7th Street are framed with elegant draperies. Centered on both the window sills stand large hand-painted Chinese vases with colorful, artificial floral arrangements bordering on the tacky side.

Z: One look at the storefront signs in the neighborhood told us we were deep in the heart of a very Chinese business district. Everything from law offices to restaurants to markets and dry cleaners had signs in large Chinese characters. There were many Chinese restaurants along the street, but Tin-In stands out with its totally vegetarian focus.

R: As soon as we entered the restaurant we were greeted by the six-foot-tall larger-than-life smiling Buddha skillfully carved from wood and polished to a fine finish. As we stepped out from Buddha who occupies considerable space, Doris, our server and great information source, showed us to a table. She left us and returned in a minute with a pot of Chinese tea and poured us two little cups of steaming brew.

Z: That was pretty efficient, we thought. We turned our attention to the menus and found the selections quite impressive. There were 52 entrees, 12 soups, and 6 appetizers, all of them tempting and exotic sounding. We recognized in an instant that we would need some suggestions to help temper our fickle taste buds. Doris came to the rescue with a smile and told us which were the most popular dishes at the restaurant.

R: As she was orienting us, sizzling dishes were coming out of the kitchen to nearby tables. The irresistible aromas made it difficult to concentrate. We narrowed our selections to six items, probably enough to serve six in addition to us. We began with an appetizer called Fried Crispy Chinese Mushrooms, little irregularly shaped rounds that were batter dipped and deep fried. The flavor was reminiscent of chicken, the texture chewy, the portion enormous.

Z: The presentation was quite picturesque. Peeking out around the edges of the platter was curly lettuce lining the bottom and deep fried sprigs of fresh basil garnishing the top. The dishes arrived from the kitchen one at a time and steaming hot. The Ma Po Tofu is actually their Szechuan style tofu made with perfectly cubed soft tofu and mixed vegetables in a tasty brown sauce. The Fried Noodles with Assorted Vegetables was much more engaging than its name suggested. An assortment of finely julienne vegetables and expert seasoning made this dish stand out.

R: A heaping platter of Veggie Lamb with Broccoli came next. It had a very meat-like texture that we simply couldn't identify. Doris explained it was made from a special variety of mushroom with a flavor and texture similar to meat. It was lightly coated in a tasty brown sauce we thoroughly enjoyed.

Z: The piece de resistance was the Sizzling Veggie Steak with Vegetables. The zesty sizzling sounds announced its arrival. This dish was literally bursting with ambrosial aroma. We weren't a bit disappointed with our choice. It tasted as good as it looked and smelled. The squares of veggie steak were made from soy protein and were still sizzling in the dish along with the water chestnuts, button mushrooms, baby corn, and red and green squares of bell pepper.

R: The creativity of the Chinese chefs who make these imitation meats from soy truly boggles the mind. We certainly knew we were not eating meat and no carnivore would be fooled for a minute, yet I am constantly awed by the similarity of flavor and closeness in texture.

Z: We over-ordered with purpose. We wanted to take food home, and that we did--generous amounts of it. We ordered one last item to satisfy our curiosity--two Shou-Tao Steamed Red Bean Bread and two Rabbit Bao Steamed Lotus Paste Bread. Before those arrived Doris brought us a dish of fresh orange wedges--the sweetest oranges we had ever tasted. The steamed desserts were the cutest things we had ever seen. The Rabbit-Bao, made from white flour, looked just like a crouching white rabbit with little ears sticking up, its two pink eyes made with dabs of food coloring.

R: The Shou-Tao, "peach" in Chinese, was a round white bun, delicately colored with pink at the base. Both were filled with sweet bean or lotus paste. Cute as Zel thought these were, I'm not a fan of white-flour pastries. As we looked around the room, we noticed that one wall had green banners that announced, "Ten-In Vegetarian Restaurant." The dinner menu said, "Tin-In," but the lunch menu said," Ten-In. "A sign on one wall also read, "Ten-In," yet the outside sign read, "Tin-In." We were totally confused. Were they having an identity crisis? Doris explained that the restaurant, now ten years old, changed hands at some point and the name changed on some signs but not on others. Today both names are used interchangeably.

Z: In addition to great food, they offer a pleasant dining atmosphere in a spacious room with pastel peach walls, red carpeting, red chair seats with gold Chinese characters, white tablecloths, and interesting wall decor. The staff is very friendly and extremely well trained. We asked to take our leftovers home and immediately three people cleared our table, packed the food into containers, and brought us our take-home bag within two or three minutes.

R: The kitchen staff also impressed us with their skillful preparations and fast delivery. Ordinarily we would not have ordered so many dishes, yet the bill was reasonable. Some of their selections could be ordered in either a small or large size, a nice feature for families with children. We noticed several tables with large families who were taking advantage of the reasonably priced, tasty food.

Tin-In (or Ten-In) Vegetarian Restaurant
640 W. Valley Blvd., Alhambra, CA 91803
Hours: Open daily 11:00 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.

Reviewed January 2001

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