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Vegan for the Holidays

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Vegetarians in Paradise

 Dining in Paradise

R: Vegetarians now have another appealing restaurant in the San Fernando Valley where they can bask in elegant ambience while dining. The moment we stepped over the threshold and walked past the decorative Oriental screen we were transported to the Far East. The large room had tables in the center and booths around the perimeter with walls that were partly covered with flagstone.

Z: It was my kind of place. The dark floral carpeting dramatically contrasted the pink tablecloths with white overlays and pink napkins. A full bar nestled in the corner to the right of the entrance. On the soffit above the entrance was a beautiful Chinese mural. It was obvious that careful attention was given to creating an inviting décor.

Lotus Inn R: The main dining room led to another, smaller dining area. Diners enter that room through a large arch covered with green Oriental ceramic tiles. Above the arch were three dominant Chinese characters that translated as Lotus Inn.

Z: We peeked into the smaller room and noticed the walls were decorated with grass mat squares and brass bells, each hanging from a thick red rope. The room was ideal for small parties or family celebrations.

R: We were seated at a comfortable booth in the large room and began to study the menu that has a sizeable Vegetarian Menu on the back page. It's impressive to see not just one or two items for vegetarians but choices of three appetizers, two soups, and nine entrees. These are in addition to the regular Vegetable section.

Z: Because we enjoy dining with friends, we shared our evening with Paul and Cyma who are not vegetarian but were open to some experimenting. We began with the Veggie Steam Dumplings. We could have had them pan-fried but opted for the healthier version.

R: While waiting for our appetizer, we took note of the soft lighting as well as the soft Chinese music that didn't dominate as music often does in many restaurants. We could actually enjoy an evening of stimulating conversation without shouting across the table.

Z: Bill, our server, soon arrived carrying a bamboo steamer basket that he set down on a platter. Lifting the cover, he reached in and spooned out two plump dumplings each and then placed a bowl of soy and ginger dipping sauce on the table.

R: The appetizer was a great choice, actually a recommendation from one of our readers. Inside the thin dough wrappers was a tasty filling of finely minced bok choy, tofu, carrots, and lapah which are Chinese greens. Our friends also nodded approval as they eagerly dipped their last dumplings into the sauce.

Z: It was one of those evenings when making entrée choices took some pondering. With appetizers staving off our hunger, we got serious and decided the Veggie Orange Flavored Chicken, the Veggie Smoked Duck, Gourmet Assorted Vegetables, and Brown Rice would be great for sharing.

R: Our friends, feeling a little unsure about what was to come, ordered a beef dish as their back-up. However, they admitted they were pleasantly surprised and seemed to enjoy the veggie "meats" that are so popular in veg-savvy Chinese restaurants.

Z: During the evening, Debbie Hu, Lotus Inn's owner, stopped by to see how we were enjoying the food. Our enthusiasm brought her back several times. We asked her if she had always been a restaurateur and discovered she is a woman of multiple talents. She studied computers, was once a mechanical engineer, and was also a waitress. She also possesses a great wit and bantered back and forth with Reuben, who prides himself on his dry wit.

R: Our bantering actually occurred at the end of our meal. Truth is, I'm only witty on a full stomach. Now for some serious food talk. The Veggie Orange Flavored Chicken, mounded in the center of the dish, was tender and succulent and was surrounded by perfectly cooked broccoli florets. It was a simple yet attractive presentation. The Gourmet Assorted Vegetables was colorful and heaped with a grand variety of vegetables. Carrots were cut into long thin julienne along with broccoli florets, water chestnuts, snow peas, whole shiitake mushrooms, sliced button mushrooms, baby bok choy bunches and bamboo shoots.

Chef Bird Z: The pièce de résistance, though, was the Veggie Smoked Duck served on a large round platter. The presentation was certainly worth a picture. There were long thin slices of "duck" resting on a medley of sliced mushrooms, snow peas, and angle sliced carrots that were bathed in a succulent, slightly sweet brown sauce. The most striking attraction was the garnish that occupied clearly one-fourth of the platter. Shredded white cabbage formed the base that was enhanced by a finely sliced cucumber cut to form a fan. Three tomato wedges artfully edged a bed of parsley that was crowned by a radish that was carved so skillfully it impressed us all.

R: The "duck" itself had a unique feature worth mentioning. To recreate the appearance of the real thing, tofu skin textured to resemble real duck skin covered the outer edges of each slice. The flavor was superb, smoky, and succulent. We also want to recognize that the restaurant offers a choice between white or brown rice. Brown was our unanimous choice.

Z: The finishing touch was the familiar Orange Wedges and Fortune Cookies served at almost all Chinese restaurants. We have a fun game we play when fortune cookies are served. After everyone breaks the cookie and reads the fortune, we try to determine whether they had received a compliment cookie, an advice cookie, a philosophy cookie, or a prediction cookie.

R: We scanned the menu for other vegetarian choices that would be appropriate for our readers. Other options included Veggie Curry Shrimp, Veggie Kung Pao Beef, Veggie Chicken with Broccoli, and Veggie Fish Steak in Garlic Sauce. The two veggie soups were Vegetable Tofu Soup and Vegetable Hot and Sour Soup.

Z: The restaurant seemed new. Sure enough it's been open about six months. The service was excellent, the food delectable, ambience delightful, and the prices comfortable. Location and parking are ideal as well. The restaurant fronts on the northeast corner of Ventura Blvd. and Topanga, about 300 yards from the corner where the large shopping center offers plenty of parking.

Lotus Inn China Bistro
21733 Ventura Blvd.
Woodland Hills, CA 91364
Phone: 818-888-0878
Hours: Open 7 days 11:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.

Reviewed June 2003

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