364 Roy Street
Seattle WA 98109
Even Peasants Can Now Sample the Meatless Meat
By: Grant Chen
In the current market of organic grocers, big names like Whole Foods, Larrys Market and PCC natural foods have come into the conscience of Seattle shoppers. These restaurants often have unique alternative foods in addition to their organic offerings, such soymilk, wheat-free breads and tofu meat substitutes. While the carnivorous might chuckle at the idea of Tofurkey, vegetarians have been long been substituting the taste and texture of meat using non-animal products.
In fact, legend goes that back in the 8th century a Chinese emperor tired of eating a meatless Buddhist diet, made a decree to a royal chef to craft a meal that could offer the emperor a taste of meat while not offending the Buddhist gods. The chef, sensing his impending doom if he failed, worked night and day to concoct a dish that would satisfy his emperor's needs. On the seventh day, he presented the meal to the emperor, who upon eating the first dish, forcibly spit it out and screamed at the chef for serving him meat on his holy day. The chef nervously replied that the dish was in fact, completely meatless, to which the emperor excitedly rejoiced. The chef was appointed to the head position in the royal court and this is how vegetarian meat came to be.
Bamboo Garden, a little wooden restaurant in Queen Anne, continues that royal legacy by serving up meat tasting vegetarian dishes. Though their menu and website claim that their staff has recreated the authentic recipes from the original royal court, I might fancy that statement as genuine modern day marketing as opposed to gastronomical mythologies.
The menu does indeed have an eclectic range of dishes, if not bemusedly named. There's the yoga-inspired Golden Petals on Jade Platter (translated: fried soy bean on Chinese greens), the seductively named Hidden Treasure (translated: chicken with vegetables) or the Sweet and Sour Pork (translated: sweet and sour pork, but not really pork). Most dishes however around the $10 price tag, which seems surprising, as I could easily imagine a price premium for this unique style of cuisine.
Perhaps the price point reflects the fact that while Bamboo Garden is clean and homely, its age is beginning to show. The interior is small but not cramped, with perhaps a little over a dozen tables. The booths are lined with fuzzy maroon cloth set against teal vinyl headrests, which Steve best describes as straight out of the 80s. Flowers hang from the ceiling, which sports standard white foam tiles and florescent lighting. Southern facing windows breathe in some life to the otherwise plain setting, but you'll just as quickly focus back on your food.
As Bamboo Garden is a Chinese restaurant, we ordered family style and opted for the following dishes:
Crispy Fried Taro Root Patties ($4.95) Coiled Chinese taro, spiced and fried to a crisp, with a sides of sweet and sour and mustard sauce.
Mongolian Beef($9.85) Veggie version of stir fried beef with vegetables topped over a bed of crispy fried bean noodles
Buddhas Black Pearl on Jade Platter ($11.85) Braised shiitake mushrooms with bok choy
Shanghai Style Rice Pasta ($8.95) Thick rice pasta with chicken and vegetables with a light browning
Overall, I thought the food was unique, but didn't have much appeal after the fact. Teapot, a similar vegetarian restaurant in Redmond, seemed to have far superior dishes, setting and presentation. When asking our waiter for recommendations, he pointed to the Mongolian Beef and General Tso's chicken, which even with the meatless version, seemed like a suspicious choice. The beef did have a meaty like texture, but was a bit crumbly as opposed to chewy. The flavor was hard to detect due to the helpings of sweet brown sauce over the beef. I thought the taro root had a great aroma, though it was surprisingly bland to my palette. The Shanghai style pasta suffered from the same effect, as the pasta was simply lumps of densely rolled rice flour. The chicken, which I initially mistook for tofu based on the rectangular shape, did have the protein texture and slight taste of chicken. My thoughts are that Bamboo Garden seems like a great idea and has nice sounding menu items, but stumbles on its execution.
When I think of Chinese food, subtle is not a word that leaps to mind. I anticipated bold flavors of ginger, garlic, onion or perhaps citrus at Bamboo Garden, but instead found the dishes to be very subtle in flavor. Even the Mongolian Beef, marked on the menu as spicy, barely created any heat in my mouth. However, nothing here tasted unpleasant, it was simply on the bland side.
The vegetarian meats were quite interesting, and added a nice variety of texture to the dishes. To me, it was less important that they imitate real meat perfectly and more important that they add something to the dish, which they did.
I thought the vegetables were cooked very well - not bitter and raw, nor soggy as is too often the case with dishes served in a sauce. The use of fresh mushrooms instead of dried and reconstituted or canned ones was a surprising treat in the Buddha's Black Pearl on Jade Platter.
With its slightly mismatched and kitschy decor, this is probably not the place to bring a date or out of town guests. Instead, I think this would be a fun spot to go on days you're too tired to cook and want to try some original, hearty, meat-free Chinese dishes.
I wholeheartedly agree with Grant on this one. I myself not being a huge fan of vegetarian restaurants, found that it did have some good vegetarian meat dishes, such as the Mongolian beef. The meat flavor was there and the consistency was similar to Salisbury steak. It's probably a good starter dish for meat eaters taking their first steps into trying out vegetarian cuisine.
The Shanghai noodles were my personal favorite. Serve a plate with densely packing pieces of cooked rice flour and I'm satisfied. The vegetable chicken in the plate was a little disappointing to me as it seemed more like tofu then chicken in terms of taste and texture.
Overall, I thought they did some very good things, but nothing that could oust the experience I had at Teapot Restaurant.
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