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Vegetarians in Paradise

 Dining in Paradise

Editors' Note: On this page in our November, 2002 issue we published a review of Genmai Restaurant in Sherman Oaks. We are sorry to report that this excellent restaurant has closed its doors. They will be missed. R: For vegetarians, a positive trend in restaurant dining is definitely evolving. Restaurants like Genmai, who are not primarily vegetarian but vegetarian friendly, are continually increasing their vegetarian menu offerings.

Z: We discovered Genmai's vegetarian dishes about two years ago. At first there were just a few items a hungry vegan could choose--not enough to recommend the restaurant to the vegetarian community. But, each time we returned, we noticed a few more items, like a vegetarian appetizer or a vegetarian miso soup.

R: On our latest excursion to ferret out their newest menu items, we were elated to find the selections had, again, expanded in number. Genmai is certainly savvy to the veg community while still catering to their regular customers.

GenmaiZ: We love dining with friends and coerced a pair of venturesome vegans to join us for veggie food in the Japanese tradition. The menu's appetizer section presented not just one, but a few choices for us. Among the selections were Edamame, Vegetable Croquettes, Hummus Quesadilla, Vegetable Dim Sum, and a Steamed Vegetable Basket.

R: We chose the Vegetable Dim Sum and our dining partners ordered the Vege Sushi. Soon our friendly server arrived with the traditional Japanese meal starter, Sunomono, small oval-shaped bowls filled with sliced, pickled cucumbers garnished with toasted sesame seeds. Gripping our black lacquer chopsticks, we all found the first few attempts to snare the cucumbers a definite challenge. My cucumbers kept sliding off the slippery sticks. With patience and perseverance we devoured our little cucumber pickles without any of them dropping into our laps.

Z: When our attractive Dim Sum starter arrived, it was so appealing we wished we had ordered all the remaining veggie appetizers as our meal. Instead, we went with the traditional meal format--appetizer followed by entrée. Now, next time . . .

R: Yes, definitely next time. This unique appetizer featured three pieces of lightly steamed zucchini, about two inches tall, standing upright, the tops cut at a dramatic angle. The centers were hollowed out and filled with finely minced vegetables, brown rice, and tofu. Attractively arranged on the plate were three broccoli florets and a radish, ginger, and soy dipping sauce.

Z: And, it was as delicious as it looked. That tasty little starter led to the Shepherd's Millet Pie entrée that I ordered and the Tempeh with Sauteed Vegetables that Reuben chose. Each was served on oversized white dishes, at least 14" in diameter, lending an artistic appearance to the food presentation. Our friends ordered a Vegetarian Sushi Platter.

R: I couldn't have been more pleased with my selection. The tempeh was thinly sliced and crisply fried before it was incorporated into the stir-fried julienne of carrots, zucchini, and onions. It was bathed in a well-seasoned, yet light teriyaki sauce with a delicate sweetness and served with brown rice.

Z: Give Reuben those robust, masculine flavors and he purrs like a baby tiger. When I reached into his dish for a taste, he jokingly slapped by hand and said, "Mine!" We laughed together and agreed this restaurant's chef has a talent for seasoning. The Shepherd's Millet Pie, we decided, is a generous meal that two can easily share. A five-inch square loaf that stands about three inches tall, it consists of layers of millet filled with diced carrots, zucchini, onions, and peas. A delicate, creamy mushroom sauce blankets the loaf.

R: Accompanying her loaf were broccoli florets, julienne carrots, and a mound of hijiki seasoned with a lightly sweetened sauce. It was definitely a dish to satisfy anyone with a hearty appetite. In contrast to my well-seasoned tempeh plate, we both agreed that the sauce over Shepherd's Pie could have used a touch more seasoning for our taste.

Z: Our friends' Vegetarian Sushi Platter consisted of a generous portion of the typical nori-wrapped brown rice with fillings that included mushrooms and cucumber. A less familiar item was in the form of tempura vegetables wrapped with brown rice. They loved the satisfying, delicately sweet flavor and the accompaniments of sliced pickled ginger, wasabi, and soy sauce for dipping.

R: At first glance, the atmosphere seemed a little stark. Then, I remembered that Japanese décor focuses on simplicity, clean lines, and plenty of open, airy space. That's Genmai with its white walls, dark grey carpeting, white tablecloths under glass tops, and turquoise napkins. Even the dark colored chairs were simple, yet tastefully designed. While the sushi lovers could sit at the long sushi bar along one wall of the restaurant, private parties could convene at the small, partly enclosed area at the far corner of the restaurant.

Genmai Z: Other selections for veggie lovers include Vegetarian Country Miso Soup, and a choice of salads such as Japanese Salad, Seaweed Salad, and Soba Salad. Heartier dishes were plentiful: Macro Wrap, Tempeh Reuben, Vegetarian Burger, and a choice of noodle dishes. The menu also features a macrobiotic Zen Country Lunch and the changing dishes on the special Vegetarian Menu.

R: Curious about the name Genmai, we learned from our server that it means brown rice. She told us that in Japan, Genmai is highly regarded as a food that brings good health and longevity.

Z: We also learned that the restaurant boasts about the special water purifying system that produces all the water used in preparing the food as well as the water served to its customers.

R: At Genmai vegetarians can select from a menu with ample variety, enjoy pleasant ambience, and appreciate reasonable prices.

4454 Van Nuys Blvd.
Sherman Oaks, CA 91403
Hours: Monday through Saturday, Lunch: 12:00 noon to 2:30 p.m.
Dinner: 5:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.
Sunday: Dinner 5:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.

Reviewed November 2002

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