Chinese food has never been my favorite cuisine. In high school I went through a roast pork lo mein phase and I have had some truly exceptional sesame tofu but other than that, I've generally been a pizza-girl on take-out nights. The ongoing exception to that is the appetizers: wonton soup, crab rangoon, scallion pancakes, cold sesame noodles. There was a time when I could make a meal out of that but alas! Scallion pancakes and cold sesame noodles can be hard to find and my decision three years ago to be vegetarian erased wonton soup and crab rangoon from my list of options. What's a girl to do? Beg for pizza or Thai food on take-out night of course!
Enter Veggie Heaven. Last week the husband and I went out with our lovely friend Sarah for her birthday. (Happy Birthday Sarah! That's her enjoying a Tropical Combo smoothie.) After much discussion of the venue, we settled on Veggie Heaven, an all-vegetarian Asian food restaurant in Northern NJ (maybe elsewhere too, I don't know). Before going, I squinted at the horrible-quality menu they have online to start planning my meal. Scallion pancakes? Wonton soup? Cold sesame noodles? Crispy tofu? An entire page of fish-free sushi?! YES PLEASE!
Suffice it to say that when we arrived at the restaurant, some decisions had to be made. As much as I would have liked to have a little of everything, that would mean paying for everything and my unemployed wallet is not up to that. After much inner turmoil, I decided to rule out sushi and stick with Chinese. At that point, my inner pig won out: three courses? Um, yes.
Here's what we finally decided on (I'm giving everyone's choices because I sampled and will review everything):
Me: wonton soup, scallion pancakes, General Tso's crispy tofu
The husband: avocado salad, spring rolls, basil fried rice
Sarah: avocado salad, roast "pork" spring rolls, pineapple "chicken"
Something I forgot to mention: Veggie Heaven specializes in "meat," something I try to avoid, though it is a nice little curiosity every now and again. I decided not to order any but Sarah did and I sampled and enjoyed her choices. I like to stick with things called what they are like tofu or tempeh because there's less chance of disappointment. Plus, I don't miss meat in the least so I feel no need to imitate it.
A sneak peek at Sarah's "chicken."The first thing that struck us was the service. Remember how we ordered a combined total of six pre-entree dishes? Those drifted out of the kitchen, one by one, in no particular order. First came my soup which I, feeling guilty to be eating alone but not wanting it to get cold, started slurping while the others eyes me with jealous eyes and empty bellies. Next up? My scallion pancakes. I guess I looked hungry. At my invitation, the others dove into my stack of crispy, greasy, delicious - NO WAIT! I'm not reviewing the food yet! The rest of the dishes slowly made their way to the table, all except the husband's salad. I guess We'll each have an avocado salad really means You'll share it and like it! Anyway. At least we saved on the tip, right? Don't worry, I gave 15%... I usually give 20. Moving on to the food.
As I've mentioned, all of my choices were things that are unusual to find vegetarian versions of or hard to find at all. I started with the soup: wontons are something that I haven't had in at least three years (probably much longer) and never in vegetarian form. Wonton soup was always my choice when my family ordered Chinese food up until middle school or so. It's likely that I haven't had it since then so lets just say that our reunion was long overdo, which is true of everything I ordered. Ahh... sweet wontons. They were great. The filling was actually a little disappointing; I expected something hearty in place of the pork, like chopped mushrooms or TVP, and what I got was some shredded cabbage and carrots. The good news though is that I learned that the wonton filling doesn't make the wonton soup. The broth and wonton dough were enough for me to devour the soup and recall eating it as a child with the fancy Chinese-style spoons that my family probably picked up on a trip to Epcot. I have a recipe for mushroom-filled wontons floating around somewhere but it always seems too involved and I never seem to get around to it but after this experience, I think it's worth it. They are definitely getting added to the things I want to recreate for myself.
Slurp.Moving on... The scallions pancakes were greasy, crispy goodness and especially delicious when dipped in the soup broth. I've actually made them before and think that I may have to do so again. The General Tso's crispy tofu was amazing. I love, love, LOVE crispy tofu, which is always best in Asian restaurants, and the sauce was the perfect balance of sweet and spicy. It definitely deserves a try at recreation. In fact, this whole meal does. I see a homemade take-out night in my future. Probably in Sarah and the husband's futures too.
A quick reviews of the others' choices: the avocado salad was yummy, though the dressing was a little off. The roast "pork" spring rolls were good, though I'd stick with regular vegetarian spring rolls in the future. It's really all about the sauce anyway. The husband's rice was okay. It was just a little boring to be honest but he loved it and that's what counts. Sarah's pineapple "chicken" was yummy: sweet and wheat-y (I can taste the breadiness of seitan which sounds unappealing but I love it!). Overall I liked my choices best, largely because they were my tried and true choices in the past so I pretty much knew what I was getting. I usually like to try new things and will do so the next time I go, but for my first trip I just wanted to revisit the past, via my plate, and I'm glad I did.
I give Veggie Heaven the double thumbs up and I suggest that come your next craving for Chinese food you find the closest location and give it a try. You won't be disappointed.
Oh, and how could I forget my fortune? What's Chinese food without a fortune?! I'll leave you on a silly note (Or weird...or creepy...or...????? You pick.):
"Attend to Business today. Leave that street-side flower alone."