Highlight: Fun Veggie Shrimp (and other meat)
Lowlight: Veggie Steak was a little tough
Veggie Note: The menu here has a vegetarian section with chicken, steak and shrimp substitutes. There are also lots of tofu options throughout the menu, dishes with meat are clearly marked and a request from the chef to inform the server of any dietary needs is also stated right on the menu.
We made a special trip here after some discussion about the vegetarian meat substitutes in a Pennlive forum thread.
Asian Noodle House is a relatively new Chinese/Vietnamese restaurant (grand opening banner still up when we ate there). It is clean and bright, but the dining room is small (the service area/soda fountain is right in the middle of everything). It was not very crowded (empty when we arrived, two other tables filled while we were there). Their menu is printed on the wall, counter service style, but we were also handed menus ate our table and our order was taken from there. The service was quick and polite. The couple that came in right after us asked the server for a replacement for a dirty plate that was on their table and we clearly heard him behind the kitchen wall scolding whoever was responsible for dish washing. Then he very carefully examined the next plate before he brought it to their table. That was theme for the evening as well. Everything was very thorough.
We had the following:
- Nothing complementary was served here
- Steamed Edemame - very fresh, but not very salty. We added our own.
- Vegetarian General Tso's Chicken: Plenty of Chinese restaurants are offering a vegetarian version of General Tso's these days, but most just serve it with fried pieces of tofu. Here it was actually served with a vegetarian meat substitute (they did also offer it with tofu in the regular menu and with crispy fried tofu in the bean curd section of the menu - I'm not sure if there was actually a difference between those dishes or not). The sauce was delicious, just the right kind of sweet and spicy for me. The meat substitute reminded me a bit of the dehydrated steak pieces we used to buy at the food co-op in our old town, long ago before Morningstar Farms came out with their steak strips. When re-hydrated, they were pretty tasty (as long as you had a good sauce or marinade) but they were always a little bit tough. The same goes for this meat tonight. But that did not stop me from eating quite a bit of it, and then eating the rest for lunch later this week. It was tasty.
- Vegetarian Happy Family: A combination of all meats and vegetables or in this case all meat substitutes, which included beef, chicken and shrimp. The whole thing was in a brown sauce, to which we forgot to request a little added spice. There was a bowl of spicy garlic sauce on the table though, which helped to make it a little more our style. The beef pieces looked the same as (and were tough like) the meat in the general tso's, and the chicken pieces were a bit smaller (also much more tender than the steak) The real fun of this dish was the veggie shrimp. I have seen little tiny veggie shrimp before, but never anything like these. We took a picture with my phone, it doesn't do it great justice, but I have posted it here anyway. They were kind of the consistency of that imitation crabmeat (fish based) they often call "sea legs" in the grocery store. But the menu clearly stated that they were soy or vegetable based. Sometimes though, it's just more comforting to eat fake meat that isn't very meat-like. I thought these were spectacular, my partner didn't like them as much, but also never liked shrimp prior to becoming a vegetarian either.
Just a few other notes:
There were several other vegetarian dishes on the menu including an orange steak, shrimp and vegetables, and I think another chicken stir-fry kind of dish. In addition, there was a section of specialties on the menu where you choose what type of protein you want and then the type of dish, so you could pretty much put tofu into anything. These dishes included a variety of more popular Chinese dishes and some I did not recognize (maybe Vietnamese style). Also, there was also a section of Bean Curd dishes, and those that contained meat gave you clear warnings. There really were not any vegetarian options in the Vietnamese (noodle) section of the menu.
This was definitely a very casual restaurant and it attracted an interesting clientele (nothing bad, just reminiscent of some of the folks my parents used to play D&D with in the 80's). It would probably make a great spot for grabbing some take-out as well.
Final Thoughts: A vegetarian could come back here many times and never order the same thing twice. What fun! That's a rare find. I think I may have mentioned before, but the Asians have really exceeded America in producing meat substitutes. Big cities almost always have all-vegetarian Asian restaurants in them (Zen Garden in Pittsburgh, Kingdom of Vegetarians in Philly). Asian/International grocers are also great places to get veggie meat products to use at home. I make some mean Philly cheese steaks and chicken cheese steaks out of some yummy stuff I buy at an international grocery store (Assi) in Montgomeryville, PA. Check out any city's China Town section to find your own treasures. Just watch out for bins full of live animals as well (I once almost threw a piece of trash into what I thought was a trash can but ended up being a can full of live bullfrogs staring up at me - ack!)