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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 June, 2001 issue we published a review of Tea Shaker and Vegetarian Food Restaurant in San Gabriel. The restaurant closed its San Gabriel location in 2004. It reopened in El Monte, but has closed in that location.

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.

Z: Thursday night was a winner, an evening devoted to . . . "research." Not just any sort of research, but our very own and very special kind of research.

R: For us, "research" often means an adventure, an urban safari to explore vegetarian treasure in the wilds of Los Angeles. Just like a couple of kids we get excited. As we enter a new restaurant (new to us, that is) there is even that edge of anticipation and curiosity about what jewels we'll find on the menu.

Z: Tucked away in an unassuming strip mall on North Rosemead Blvd. just south of Huntington Drive in San Gabriel is a unique Asian restaurant with a sign that reads," Tea Shaker and Vegetarian Food." We had heard about it from one of our readers and decided to ask two friends to accompany us in our "research." Perusing the full color photo menu on the window, we felt the restaurant was reminiscent of so many in Chinatown and Little Tokyo.

Tea Shaker R: But this one was different. It offered a totally vegan mix of Asian specialties from different cultures. Amy, our very friendly serving person, guided us in making some challenging decisions. It wasn't a matter of finding something we liked, rather it was narrowing down the multitude of choices to a manageable few.

Z: The menu came in two parts, one a tri-fold listing of the restaurant's offerings, the other a notebook with color photos of each of their special dishes. We were curious about a dish called Tea Salad. Amy's description confirmed it was going to be a very interesting starter.

R: Their special soup of the day was Hot and Sour Soup, one of our favorites that we discovered can be a different experience in each Asian restaurant. We included it along with Amy's suggestion of Papaya Salad, Vegetarian Chicken Steak, Beef Curry Rice Plate, and Tom Yum Vermicelli.

Z: To heighten our experience, we simply had to taste some of their 29 special tea beverages that give the restaurant its name. Reuben ordered the blended Iced Mango Green Tea while I chose the Passion Fruit Green Tea, also iced. Chuck decided on the Cantaloupe Iced Green Tea, a thick, frothy combination of fresh cantaloupe, soy milk, and green tea sweetened with fructose. The drink came in a tall, old-fashioned ice cream soda glass and featured black tapioca balls at the bottom of the glass. Gregg settled on the Lychee Iced Green Tea, a similar thick and frothy drink that also had black tapioca balls. Our special teas were sweet, pleasantly fruity, energizing.

R: We could have chosen black tea as well, but green tea won out as the universal choice. All of the beverages could win a contest for eye appeal, but, better still, they were really delicious, refreshing and totally vegan.

Z: Our Tea Salad arrived with each of its unique components attractively arranged in sections on an oval platter. This salad is a stand-out item and a must to order. In the center of the platter was a heaping mound of dressed shredded cabbage, surrounded by mounds of shredded carrots, deep fried crispy mung beans, toasted sesame seeds, and toasted peanuts. A top layer of fermented tea leaves imported from Burma is what makes this dish so special.

R: Joseph, the congenial chef-owner, came out of the kitchen to greet us and showed how to toss all the ingredients together to create a dish of exceptional flavor with a spicy punch and crunchy texture. We learned that Joseph was born in Burma. When quite young, he left Burma and spent some time in Thailand and Hong Kong before making his home in Taiwan. His foods, though definitively Asian, reflect his eclectic influences.

Z: Typically, this salad, called Lepet in Burma, contains fish sauce and shrimp powder, but Joseph, who is firmly committed to veganism, skillfully seasons his foods without animal ingredients. The Tea Salad received a unanimous four thumbs up with Gregg summing it up in one word, "Awesome!"

R: Next came the Hot and Sour Soup, a well-seasoned, hearty meal in itself with a variety of vegetables and a full complement of noodles. Our chef employed a hint of spice to give the soup its zesty flavor. Amy brought us our Papaya Salad made with shredded green papaya, shredded carrots, chopped tomatoes, and roasted peanuts. The dressing made with lime juice, a hint of soy sauce, and a touch of evaporated cane juice gave this entree that perfect balance of sour, salty, and sweet so typical of Thai cooking.

Z: The remainder of our dishes came in rapid succession. The Vegetarian Chicken Steak was one of our top picks. A soy-based patty with great flavor and soft texture came with rice, a combination of vegetables, and heavenly gravy.

Bird R: Noodles, always a favorite of ours, arrived in the form of Tom Yum Vermicelli, a mosaic of vegetables including broccoli, shredded carrots, shredded cabbage and thin slices of soy "meat"in a tasty soy-based sauce. We certainly couldn't leave hungry. The portions were quite generous.

Z: The Beef Curry Rice Plate, served on a shallow, oval glass bowl, was attractively presented and garnished with black sesame seeds. The base was a mound of rice topped with green peas, cubes of tofu, and thin slices of soy meat that didn't quite pick up the flavor of the delicate curry sauce.

R: What an indulgent meal! We thought we were finished and quite sated, but Joseph surprised us with another of his house specialties, a Coconut Ice Cream. Definitely not ordinary ice cream, this delicious dessert, not overly sweet, was made from coconut milk and wheat grass with little bits of corn, jackfruit, and taro. The iced teas and the ice cream are two musts for anyone dining at the Tea Shaker.

Z: The Coconut Ice Cream certainly did win a round of nods of approval. The ice cream was Joseph's way of sharing the restaurant's one-year anniversary celebration. Family owned and operated, the Tea Shaker has a simple but pleasant atmosphere with offerings that are unique, varied, and all plant-based. This was true family dining. During the course of the meal we managed to meet all of Joseph's family. Amy was his sister-in-law. His daughter took our tea orders and served them as well. His son served us several of our dishes, and his personable wife, Candy, sent us off with a hug.

R: As with most vegetarian restaurants, money goes far, and one can often stretch the portions to enjoy a few leftovers the next day. We certainly did.

Tea Shaker and Vegetarian Restaurant
3311 North Tyler Ave., El Monte, CA 91731

Reviewed June 2001

Click here for past Dining in Paradise reviews

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