R: If you happen to be driving down Valley Boulevard in the city of Alhambra, you can't help but crave Chinese food. Everywhere you turn you'll see Chinese signs on nearly every business establishment from dry cleaners and markets to a host of restaurants. Finding a vegetarian Chinese restaurant was easy.
Z: We had heard about Vege House Restaurant and found it at the end of a strip mall with plenty of parking on the side. As we entered the brightly lit dining room, we were greeted by a smiling Buddha figure sitting on the counter. On the floor beneath Buddha were pots of yellow chrysanthemums in full bloom.
R: At 7:30 p.m. when we arrived, nearly every table in the restaurant was full. The place was bustling and teaming with animated family life from infants and children to gray-haired grandmas. We were seated at the last empty table with our friend Valorie and taken under wing by Wendy, our Chinese server whose English skills were at times a little challenging for both her and us.
Z: But Wendy got us through the ordering with plenty of smiles and a great optimism. We began with the Veggie Shark's Fin Soup. Since we had never tasted the real thing, we didn't have a measuring stick for comparison; however, it was a tasty light broth that was dotted with enoki mushrooms, julienne snow peas and bamboo shoots, glass noodles, and wheat noodles.
R: Although the restaurant was quite busy, the kitchen staff was keeping pace. While we were eating our soup, the rest of our order arrived steaming hot. As we began putting portions of the different items on our plates, we couldn't help noticing how quickly the plates filled. They were actually little salad size plates, quite attractive with a blue lotus design on the outer rim.
Z: The platter of Veggie Rib with Pineapple and Sweet and Sour Sauce was a generous serving of taro chunks thickly breaded and deep-fried to make them crispy. Because of the breading, each chunk grew to almost two inches in diameter. The colorful accompaniments included angle-sliced zig zag carrots, green bell pepper, water chestnuts, and chunks of pineapple.
R: Chinese Kung Pao dishes can sometimes be quite spicy. The Kung Pao Veggie Chicken at Vege House was light on the spice and bursting with rich flavor. Surrounding the lightly breaded and deep fried veg chicken were chunks of green bell pepper, sliced water chestnuts, carrots, chopped roasted peanuts and those little red chiles only the brave dare bite into.
Z: All of us enjoyed the Mixed Vegetables in White Sauce, a dish that doesn't necessarily sound inspired but turned out surprisingly flavorful. The healthy combination of vegetables included chunks of cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, baby corn, bok choy, button mushrooms, and fresh shiitakes in a tasty, lightly thickened clear sauce.
R: The dish that called to us for second and third helpings was the #86 Hot Pot called Many Veggie Ingredients with Spicy Soup. The thick, spicy, rich brown broth flavored the contents so well we decided this item was a must on our next visit. Bathing in this luscious broth were large chunks of tofu, chunks of celery, tofu skin, napa cabbage, taro, and chunks of gluten. Among this melange was a mysterious blob of gelatinous matter that was created to represent squid. Also included were chewy, fleshy chunks of veggie salmon made from a Japanese powder colored with nature's own carrot juice.
Z: The dish was a winner with its spicy, complex, soy infused soup base and its multitude of ingredients. The textures alone were a unique experience, but definitely a positive one. Our only disappointment was that the restaurant didn't have brown rice available, only the white.
R: The pot of hot tea was soothing and warming on that cool, windy night. Our meal concluded with the traditional wedges of fresh oranges and fortune cookies. We noticed that about 8:00 o'clock the restaurant was almost empty except for us. Then about 20 minutes later a second wave of diners began filling the tables.
Z: The guests at the table next to us ordered a sizzling dish that was sending a plume of steam that rose to the ceiling and spewed its tantalizing aromas throughout the restaurant. Maybe we'll try one of the sizzling dishes next time.
R: The menu offers a daunting array of specialties. Many exotic items called to us like the Veggie Scallop with Green Mustard, Sesame Gobo, Veggie Mixed Pigeon in Lettuce, and Sour Bamboo and Veggie Pork with Soy Sauce. But those will have to wait for our next adventure.
Z: I must share a quizzical, almost surreal Alice in Wonderland moment that left me chuckling. When I asked where the restroom was located, Wendy pointed to a door at the rear and said to turn left. I walked through the door and suddenly I was in a bowling alley. And, sure enough, to the left was the restroom!
Vege House Restaurant
Reviewed April 2004