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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 December, 2001, issue we published a review of Veggie Bistro Restaurant in Whittier. We are sorry to report that this excellent restaurant has closed its doors. They will be missed.

Z: How fortunate the historical city of Whittier is to be home to the Veggie Bistro, a new vegetarian restaurant that has food so tasty we made the long trek twice to sample the fare that carried a distinct Chinese style with an innovative Vietnamese flair. Most items on the menu are vegan, with just a few exceptions.

Veggie Bistro R: And both times we agreed it was worth driving the extra miles to the informal storefront bistro on the corner of Comstock and Bailey, close to the old downtown area. The place has a cheery brightness because of the floor to ceiling windows that face both streets. Wood paneling on the bottom half of the walls lends warmth to the atmosphere, along with patterned green carpeting, potted plants, and a smattering of Asian art.

Z: A smiling Buddha graces the counter at the back of the bistro with a portrait of spiritual leader Su Ma Ching Hai on the wall behind. The real warmth, though, comes from owners Mark Huynh and Long Chau who greet their patrons with genuine smiles of welcome and who make the effort to remember names of repeat customers.

R: As we entered, we noticed the board with their daily specials that listed Kung Pao Chicken along with several other dishes. We made a mental note of that spicy chicken dish, one of our favorites. Though the restaurant wasn't completely full, the many filled tables kept dishes flowing out of the kitchen at a steady pace and sent wonderful aromas toward our table.

Z: We perused the menu, then decided to get some suggestions from Mark, our waiter. It's not surprising that he made some excellent suggestions. We learned very quickly about his dual role. He was also the chef. The restaurant's large staff of two
( owners Mark and Long, both from Vietnam) keep quite a pace taking orders, cooking, and serving.

R: Eggplant Curry Soup was our choice for the first course. Actually, eggplant is my passion so I absolutely had to have it! An outstanding beginning, the flavors were rich, complex, and satisfying with large chunks of melt-in-your-mouth Chinese eggplant, carrots that were zigzag sliced, chunks of potatoes, onions, and sliced gluten in a perfectly spiced red curry base. True to tradition, the soup was served with Chinese soup spoons. We were glad we ordered the large size so we could take home the leftovers.

Z: Mark took to the kitchen to prepare our second course, the Chicken Salad that has more to offer than its simple name suggests. The shredded chicken, made of gluten, is attractively combined with shredded cabbage, sliced carrots, and shredded lettuce, all dressed in a light, sweet and sour coating and garnished with chopped peanuts. We didn't leave a single shred!

R: Another of Mark's recommendations was the Salmon with Mushroom, a stand-out dish that was so memorable we talked about its exceptional flavors for several days afterward. Served on an oval platter, the realistic-looking salmon was actually thin, oval slices of soy protein with nori on the outer edges. The "salmon" was tossed with pineapple chunks, snow peas, sliced mushrooms and scallions in a light sauce with a hint of sweetness and a distinct salmon flavor and color.

Z: Thoughts of that Kung Pao Chicken simply wouldn't leave, so we relented and ordered it along with some Brown Rice. No regrets--the "chicken" was presented as succulent chunks of soy protein served with large angle-cuts of carrots, celery, zucchini, onions, whole peanuts and those zesty little red chiles that can fire up your entire mouth if you don't watch out!

R: What Zel is conveying is that it was visually appealing and really tasty with a robust measure of spice. As we were finishing our meal and the restaurant began to empty, we had an opportunity to chat with both Mark and Long. Both are from Vietnam and have been in the U.S. for about 20 years.

Z: While living in San Jose, Mark learned his cooking skills working at the Vegetarian House. We could tell he was an excellent student. He has a real knack for seasoning, an art actually, since it's impossible to teach someone how to make a dish tasty.

R: Long packed up our leftovers, and off we went, only to return two weeks later with our friends John and Helen to share another exceptional meal. This time our auspicious beginning included two soups, the Thai Hot and Sour Soup and the House Special Soup. The Thai Hot and Sour Soup had the perfect balance of sour, sweet, and salty flavors with a lively zing to the spice, while the House Special Soup with its more delicate clear broth was filled with diced chunks of tofu, peas, carrots, veggie ham, seaweed, corn, and scallions.

Soupbirds Z: Both soups got a thumbs up! We should mention that the Thai Hot and Sour Soup was dotted with generous portions of cabbage, tomatoes, straw mushrooms, pineapple chunks, tofu, veggie ham, and mint leaves. Chef Mark certainly set the scene for another sensational meal!

R: We raved so much about the entrees we had on our first visit that our friends wanted to try them, too. So, again, we ordered the Salmon with Mushroom and the Kung Pao Chicken. After some serious pondering we also added two more items, the Eggplant Tofu and the Curry Masala.

Z: Succulent, richly flavored, and positively addictive, the Eggplant Tofu instantly enraptured us all! We loved the large angle cuts of Chinese eggplant that were cooked to tender perfection with tofu, onions, and marinated Chinese black beans in a light sauce that was delicately sweet. John and Helen enjoyed the Salmon with Mushroom and Kung Pao Chicken with as much enthusiasm as we expressed earlier!

R: The Curry Masala was a colorful medley of vegetables in a light curry sauce that didn't overpower but rather allowed the flavor of the vegetables that were still crisp-tender to come through. And what a variety of vegetables: celery, carrots, bok choy cabbage, green beans, snowpeas, mushrooms, broccoli, onions, Chinese eggplant, and zucchini. Whew! We also ordered a large bowl of Brown Rice.

Z: The portions were generous, and though we ate heartily, we had plenty to take home for the next day. The Veggie Bistro features 54 different items on their menu. In addition to the favorites we ordered, there are appetizers, house specialties, rice and noodle dishes, and a few surprises such as their Western Entrees that included Spaghetti Marinara, Fettuccine Alfredo, Spinach Mushroom Fettuccini, Vegetarian Lasagne, and Spaghetti Jambalaya.

R: Their servings are generous and all items on the menu are very affordable. The most expensive dish offered is $7.25. As we departed, I said, "Oh, if we could only transport this restaurant to our neighborhood."

Veggie Bistro
6557 Comstock Avenue, Whittier, CA 90601

Reviewed December 2001

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