R: With my well-hidden brute strength I managed to subdue my partner and chose a more opportune time to explore the new Garden Wok, located right in the center of the San Fernando Valley on Reseda Blvd. between Victory Blvd. and Oxnard, conveniently close to the 101 freeway.
Z: Sherry Chiueh, the owner, and her server, Hanna, both from Taiwan, greeted us cordially. We chose one of the pink vinyl booths along the wall, and as we began to study the extensive menu, we recognized that we might well benefit from a few of the chef's suggestions. Sherry, we soon discovered, is also the chef.
R: Unlike so many menus that offer at most half-a-dozen appetizers, this menu listed 13 starters. Following were 10 soup choices, 74 main courses, and 17 rice and noodle dishes; an impressive list of offerings. Both Sherry and Hanna were flattered to be consulted and chose Number 6, Chicken Drum Sticks for our appetizer. We watched the remainder of the selection process with awe. This was serious business.
Z: Both women seemed to be consulting each other as if this were a momentous decision. At last, they emerged from the huddle to announce their selections of Curry Veggie Beef, Veggie Meat Ball, Kung Pao Veggie Squid, and Brown Rice. As soon as we said yes to everything, they both disappeared into the kitchen.
R: The wait was brief when Hanna appeared with our Chicken Drum Sticks. Those unfamiliar with the veggie meat substitutes produced in Taiwan would be amazed at the likeness these have to the real chicken drumsticks. The drumsticks are formed on a short wooden dowel that simulates a chicken bone, except a bit thinner.
Z: Arranged on a bed of shredded green cabbage were four golden brown drumsticks. Both the taste and texture are very reminiscent of chicken, yet the drumsticks are made from a mushroom base but have no connection to chicken other than appearance. Exceptional was the fact that they were deep-fried, yet, surprisingly, they were not greasy.
R: Actually the non-greasy theme prevailed throughout the remainder of meal as well. The foods are stir-fried in a wok, typical Chinese style, but Chef Sherry uses minimal oil. At the end of the meal we both noticed there was not the familiar puddle of oil at the bottom of our dishes found at some Chinese restaurants.
Z: The Curry Veggie Beef was a delicious medley of bell peppers, zucchini, crinkle-cut carrots, and tender slices of thinly cut soy protein that was skillfully seasoned and textured to resemble beef. The delicately flavored curry sauce, promising a hot and spicy punch, delivered as promised.
R: The dishes did not come all at once, giving us an opportunity to savor each with full attention. During our conversation with Sherry, who kept appearing after she prepared each dish, we learned she was chef at Vegetable Delight in Granada Hills for nine years. Then she added Vegetable Delight was her brother's restaurant.
Z: Guess culinary prowess runs in the family. When we looked around the restaurant, we noticed a similarity in décor between the two restaurants--the pink booths around the perimeter, white tablecloths with glass tops, a painting or two, a few plants, and black lacquer chairs for the tables in the center of the well-lit carpeted room. Different was the faux finish sponged walls in a warm shade of apricot.
R: Ready for the next dish, we sampled the Kung Pao Veggie Squid made from yam and carrot. Typical of the rubbery texture of real squid, this mock version recreated the texture perfectly. This tasty dish, also spicy, included stir-fried green bell pepper, roasted peanuts, long red chiles, mushrooms, and zucchini in a light sauce with undertones of soy sauce and sesame oil.
Z: We agreed the stand-out dish of the evening was the Veggie Meat Balls made from tofu and wheat gluten. Unique and succulent, the four glistening, golden brown balls, each two-inches in diameter, were perched on a deep green blanket of baby bok choy. Each bite was exquisitely savory, light, and tender, yet slightly crunchy with finely minced water chestnuts and carrots. Coated with a delicate, but distinctly Asian sauce, the meat balls were pure perfection.
R: Usually I shy away from the greens with their bitter flavor, but these greens were the exception--they were actually delicious! Our final indulgence was a small scoop of chocolate peanut butter Soy Delicious "ice cream."
Z: Fully sated we consumed our frozen dessert while pondering our meal that offered such diversity in flavors and textures. With another glance at the menu we noticed that there were numerous possibilities for those who shun the veggie meats. Tofu, noodle, rice, and vegetable dishes were plentiful. Diners who love the veggie meats can enjoy dishes made to taste like chicken, beef, pork, shrimp, squid, ham, and veggie fish.
R: If a customer wanted to pair a veggie meat dish with a different sauce, the chef was eager to please. The Garden Wok is certainly a place where a customer can find value for money. Prices are very reasonable. We plan to hurry back.
Reviewed August 2003