Z: Taiwanese cuisine, with ingredients similar to those in neighboring China, is uniquely different in style, seasonings, and presentation. Most Chinese dishes are accompanied by rice, but at Bean Sprouts the emphasis is on noodles-many kinds of noodles. The cuisine is mainly vegan with a few exceptions that contained egg.
R: Brightly lit yet tastefully outfitted, this small restaurant presents an ambience that invites serenity. Polished light wooden floors, tables, and chairs artfully compliment the fountain that cascades down a recessed wall of variegated green slate. Several shades lighter than the slate is one wall in faux-finished green and another painted in a soft shade of southwest pumpkin. Lighting along the window features colorful, long, thin cylinder drop lights
Z: With friends Joan and Larry in tow, we chose a table beside the floor-to-ceiling wall of windows that face East Huntington Drive. Maggie, our first server, greeted us and described the beverage offerings. Reuben perked up when she offered wintermelon juice among the choices. Unaccustomed to the super-sweet beverages popular in Southeast Asia, his first sip was a shock to his taste buds.
R: I'm not one for sugar-bashing, but it tasted like a glass of sugar syrup with a touch of vanilla and a hint of something fruity. Don't get me wrong, it was not unpleasant--just too, too sweet for my palate. However, I thoroughly appreciated the Nora Jones vocals in the background throughout our dinner.
Z: Our second server, Bob, made some excellent appetizer suggestions that were first rate starters. The Rainbow Roll, cut into 8 pieces like sushi and served on a white rectangular sushi dish, was reminiscent of a rice paper Vietnamese spring roll but a little more voluptuous. In place of the rice paper were two wrappings. The inner layer was nori while the outer wrapping was a wide, lightly sweetened rice noodle. The tasty filling was a rainbow of colors--finely cut carrot, cucumbers, soy ham, bean sprouts, chopped peanuts, and greenleaf lettuce. A delicate garnish of alfalfa sprouts was strewn over the top forming a gossamer veil.
R: The second starter of Pan-Fried Radish Patties arrived sizzling hot. Made of finely ground daikon radish and rice flour, the five large, thick rectangles reclined on a bed of shredded iceberg lettuce and purple cabbage. Accompanying the patties was a sweet and sour sauce for dipping and a tiny dish with a salad of marinated bean sprouts, carrots, and shiitake mushrooms. The Radish Patties were an instant success with their succulent, moist and creamy texture and delicate daikon flavor. Our dining group nearly fought over the fifth patty but solved the dilemma by cutting it into fourths.
Z: Chopsticks in hand, we tackled the House Special Pan-Fried Udon, but the noodles required more chopstick expertise than Reuben and I could muster. Joan and Larry, however, had honed their chopstick skills while traveling in China and handled those noodles like pros. Resorting to the fork, Reuben and I were better equipped to appreciate our tasty dish of wheat-based, flat noodles that were generously dotted with grilled carrots, cabbage, bean sprouts, mushrooms, and bok choy, along with triangles of well-seasoned tofu.
R: One of my favorite selections was the Sweet and Sour Sauce with Soy Fish on Rice, a dish that featured a base of rice topped with breaded, soy fish grilled in a lusty sweet and sour barbecue sauce. Filling out the platter were bright green, perfectly steamed broccoli florets, bits of minced veggie pork, and a grilled cabbage slaw seasoned Asian style.
Z: We neglected to specify brown rice for the fish dish and placed a side order that turned out to be a delicious blend of nutty dark and light brown rice. Following Bob's suggestions, we then sampled the Sesame Cold Noodles, a dish of uniquely thick, round rice noodles that were so long we began taking bets the entire serving was one long noodle.
R: The chilled noodles were bathed in a creamy Taiwanese style sesame and peanut sauce whose flavor is best described as light and mellow. Lending color and texture to the noodles were long slivers of carrot and cucumber. But notable is the likable, toothy texture of these unusual noodles.
Z: My favorite menu item was the Noodles with Curry Sauce. Though this dish was visually appealing and richly flavored, it didn't resemble curry at all. Chunks of potatoes, cabbage, mushrooms, and carrots braised in a savory "curry" broth were piled over a bed of flat, seemingly mile-long noodles. Long noodles appear to be the in-thing in Taiwanese cuisine. Those "mile-long" noodles were actually 18 inches in length and were tossed in the delicious sauce. Cuddled up to the potatoes were steamed broccoli florets and sections of deliciously stewed chunks of tofu skin. A lone slice of bright yellow, salty, pickled daikon lay at the edge of the dish, daring the diner to partake.
R: Bob introduced us to Chef Chen, a petite woman from Taiwan who speaks no English. We mentioned that the cooking style is quite different from Chinese cuisine. Translating for us, Bob said that Chef Chen agreed and considers her dishes typical Taiwanese fast food. She graciously accepted our compliments with a shy chuckle.
Z: A traditional fixture on the counter of many Buddhist Chinese restaurants, Buddha was absent at Bean Sprouts because the owners follow Daoist philosophy. Instead, on the counter was a heaping bowl of beautiful lemons, another with a pyramid stack of persimmons, and a plant known as the money tree.
R: Shortly, Bob returned to our table with dessert, compliments of Chef Chen, and presented us each with a small bowl of delicately sweetened brown rice garnished with sesame seeds. It was a much appreciated, thoughtful gesture.
Z: Open only four months, the restaurant is attracting a regular family clientele as young parents streamed in with small children and elderly family members. Prices were reasonable, ambience cheery and comfortable, service was enthusiastically attentive, and the food was easy to enjoy.
Bean Sprouts Vegetarian Restaurant
Reviewed November 2005