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Insights, tips, and restaurant reports from CHOW editors and Chowhound.

Fakin’ It, Asian-Style

Did you go vegetarian but miss meat? A bunch of Asian vegetarian restaurants can fill the void with dishes using “fake meat” (tempeh or some such) with fairly convincing taste and texture. This stuff was originally concocted for observant Buddhists, particularly monks, and is mostly a Taiwanese thing, says ladelfa, although it’s also found on the Chinese mainland. Here in LA, you can also find Thai, Philippine, and Vietnamese restaurants that serve fake meat dishes.

If you’re going to try just one, start with Fine Garden. With a new owner, new menu and, thinks ladelfa, the chef from the formerly great (now not so much) Veggie Wok, this place now offers the best dishes from three or four good-but-now-defunct Chinese vegetarian restaurants of San Gabriel Valley.

Probably the best-known Chinese vegetarian place is Happy Family. There’s an all-you-can-eat buffet, but the menu runs to hundreds of items, with some fancier dishes. The fake meat is very good in cold appetizers and the mini Hunan ham sandwiches. Curry chicken, hand rolls, and shrimp dishes are good. Despite the ersatz offerings, AquaW says, “I like it because it doesn’t try to hide the vegetarian quality of the vegetarian meat (which at Happy Family I believe is mostly derived from tofu, taro, or mushroom).” And the flat-out vegetable dishes are really well made, adds Jerome, especially the enokidake lily flower soup (jinzhen tang) and houtougu soup (a special soup with monkey-head mushrooms).

At the restaurant formerly known as Vege House (now called Wang’s Family Restaurant), you’ll find yourself chowing down on more hard-core Chinese dishes with lots of Buddhist monks. Some of the flavors here are an acquired taste for Westerners. Weekday lunch special gets you too much food for about $5.

Au Lac is well known for pretty good vegetarian renditions of Vietnamese dishes–the goi cuon (spring rolls) are delicious. Don’t be put off by the realistic-looking faux shrimp. Noodle soups are pretty excellent, and it’s all very fresh, says Tkn. But ladelfa says their food is generally oversugared and recommends Thuyen Vien as being much better. Try the pickled baby lotus root salad.

California Vegan is a Thai place using fake meat–bijoux recommends the mock chicken with spicy eggplant and the cheap lunch specials.

To make your own, Bodhi Vegetarian Supply has a jaw-dropping selection of frozen fake meats, most of it from Taiwan, says ladelfa. There are also dried soy chunks that you soak in water and use in place of chicken or beef in stews and the like. Prices are about as low as it gets for this kind of stuff.

The San Gabriel Supercenter also has a good selection in its frozen food section–three or four of their open-top freezer units are entirely vegetarian. Adjacent to those is a refrigerated-goods area with interesting soy meats, pressed tofu strips, and more.

The San Fernando Valley doesn’t rival SGV for Chinese restaurants, but Jerome points vegetarians in the area to Vegetable Delight. Turns out the fake shrimp get their realistic coloring from seaweed.

In Orange County, Veggie Bistro has mostly (but not all) Vietnamese fare–faux beef dishes are particularly good, says wendy8869, like vermicelli with beef. Eggplant curry soup and shrimp dishes are also chow-worthy–there are Chinese and Italian dishes too–good for when there are a lot of taste buds to accommodate.

Cerritos has Vegi Wokery (Chinese), and Irvine has Wheel of Life (Thai).

The Filipino restaurant Papillon draws a lot of responses, good and bad. The omnivorous ElissaInPlaya loves it, but after an initial rave, the vegetarian wowimadog went back with Filipino husband and relatives who weren’t impressed–7 out of 10. It’s certainly worth a try, and they have vegetarian and non-vegetarian versions of most dishes. The vegetarian house special chicken is flavorful, and the texture just right, says Nicole.

Fine Garden Vegetarian Cuisine [San Gabriel Valley]
formerly Veg Table Restaurant
841 W. Las Tunas Dr., Mission, San Gabriel
626-282-2282
Map

Happy Family Restaurant [San Gabriel Valley]
608 N. Atlantic Blvd., Hellman, Monterey Park
626-282-8986
Map

New Happy Family Of Rosemead [San Gabriel Valley]
8632 Valley Blvd., Walnut Grove, Rosemead
626-288-5786
Map

Happy Family Restaurant [East LA-ish]
869 N. Wilcox Ave., Via Campo, Montebello
323-722-8888
Map

Happy Family Restaurant [Inland of LA]
18425 Colima Rd., Batson, Rowland Heights
626-965-9923
Map

Vege House Restaurant [San Gabriel Valley]
a.k.a. Wangs Family Restaurant
1400 E. Valley Blvd., New Alhambra
626-293-8189
Map

Au Lac Gourmet Vegetarian [South OC]
16563 Brookhurst St., Fountain Valley
714-418-0658
Map

Thuyen Vien [Little Saigon]
11080 Magnolia St., Katella, Garden Grove
714-638-8189
Map

Bodhi Vegetarian Supply [San Gabriel Valley]
8450 Valley Blvd. #106, Rosemead
626-282-0089
Map

San Gabriel Superstore [San Gabriel Valley]
1635 S. San Gabriel Blvd., Valley, San Gabriel
626-280-9998
Map

Vegetable Delight [West San Fernando Valley]
17823 Chatsworth St., Granada Hills
818-360-3997
Map

California Vegan [West LA]
12113 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles
310-207-4798
Map

California Vegan Restaurant [West Hollywood]
7300 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles
323-874-9079
Map

Veggie Bistro [East LA-ish]
6557 Comstock Ave., Whittier
562-907-7898
Map

Vegi Wokery [Artesia-ish]
11329 183rd St., Gridley, Cerritos
562-809-3928
Map

Wheel Of Life [South OC]
14370 Culver Dr. #2, Irvine
949-551-8222
Map

Papillon Vegetarian Cuisine [Beaches]
408 Main St., El Segundo
310-640-0408
Map

Board Links: Vegetarian “Fake Meat” Restaurants- Recs?
City Beat’s “Next Big Ethnic Craze”: Papillion

Pricey Chinese: Abalone vs. Lobster

Where does one eat Chinese on an expense account? Well, it depends on whom you’re trying to impress.

If you want pricey, rare Chinese ingredients, go with a straight-up Cantonese seafood specialist. Good choices are R&G Lounge, Koi Palace, or South Sea Seafood Village. The setting at Koi Palace is particularly nice, though it’s outside the city. You can also opt for a private room upstairs at R&G Lounge. At all these places you’ll find things like abalone and shark’s fin.

If, however, you want a more globalized version of upscale Chinese, for what PegS refers to as “regular SF business folks,” the answer is different. Tommy Toy’s is the consensus top pick. Get a private room, order off the set tasting menu, and enjoy the French take on classic Chinese flavors. Superior service and valet parking, too.

Shanghai 1930, Silks, Yank Sing, or the Mandarin, are other good choices in this category, depending on what you’re after. Go to Yank Sing for expensive dim sum (more lobster than abalone) or to the Mandarin for its great waterside view.

R&G Lounge [Chinatown]
631 Kearny St., San Francisco
415-982-7877
Map

Koi Palace Restaurant [Peninsula]
365 Gellert Blvd., Daly City
650-992-9000
Map

South Sea Seafood Village [Sunset]
1420 Irving St., San Francisco
415-665-8210
Map

Tommy Toy’s [Financial District]
655 Montgomery St., San Francisco
415-397-4888
Map

Shanghai 1930 Restaurant [Embarcadero]
133 Steuart St., San Francisco
415-896-5600
Map

Silks at Mandarin Oriental [Financial District]
222 Sansome St., San Francisco
415-986-2020
Map

Yank Sing [Embarcadero]
101 Spear St. (in Rincon Center), San Francisco
415-957-9300
Map

Mandarin Restaurant [Embarcadero]
900 N. Point St., San Francisco
415-673-8812
Map

Board Links: High End–Classy Chinese Restaurant in San Francisco…where to find?

Sushi at Kaygetsu

Although the modest chef, Toshi-san (who worked together with Sakae’s chef, Hiro-san, in a previous restaurant), says his restaurant specializes in kaiseki, sushi is done to perfection, says K K. Ask for omakase, and be treated to one of the Bay Area ’s sushi masters.

A highlight is scallop nigiri, placed atop a shiso leaf and topped with a thick goopy mixture of uni and miso and a wee bit of caviar. Hirame (halibut) is taken from a large cut, de-skinned, carved carefully and pressed into the rice, with a bit of ponzu on top. Kanpachi comes from Japan, not Hawaii, and is free of the stringiness, fishiness, and sliminess of some kanpachi. Isaki makes a rare appearance: similar to sea bass or suzuki, and totally fresh. One last standout is tamago yaki (egg), which shows off the flavors of ground shrimp and dashi–it beats out other renditions up and down the West Coast.

A bonus is watching the chef’s knifework and his skill in pressing fish into rice.

The one downside to sushi at Kaygetsu is the limited variety of fish. Being primary a kaiseki restaurant, Toshi-san stocks a limited range of ingredients. But the limited variety is a small price to pay for the freshness and skill that goes into the sushi.

Price for one for omakase lunch: $68 plus a mandatory 16% tip.

Kaygetsu Restaurant [Peninsula]
325 Sharon Park Dr., Menlo Park
650-234-1084
Map

Board Links: Sushi at Kaygetsu Menlo Park

Ebb Tide: Fish Shack, Westchester Style, in Port Chester

The menu flows with the catch at Ebb Tide, a riverside seafood house in Port Chester. If soft shell crab sandwiches or monkfish in calamari red sauce are available, get them, advises Dim Sum Diva. cervisiam, while not blown away by the joint, recommends fish sandwiches and the lobster dinner (steamed lobster, corn, and chowder for under $20). They also have other fresh fish, steamers, crab cakes, and more. Kids might go for the foot-long hot dog.

Ebb Tide isn’t cheap–even a simple lunch might crack double figures–but the waterfront setting has its charms. “There is something about eating out on the deck in the sun,” notes Dim Sum Diva. “It’s peaceful. We’ve watched the duck family across the channel nest and hatch and grow. For Westchester, it’s as close as we can get to a seafood shack.”

Ebb Tide Seafood [Westchester County]
1 Willett Ave., at the Byram River, Port Chester
914-937-1387
Map

Board Links: Ebb Tide Seafood and Lobster Shack, Port Chester—anyone been? Worth a trip?
Ebb Tide in Portchester

Vern’s Toffee

Vern’s toffee, out of Ft. Collins, Co., is a new name to us! Low humidity makes Colorado an excellent place for making toffee, says dml. These folks use no preservatives or chemicals.

Board Links: vosges toffee…huh?

Catalogue Your Wines, and Lots More

Manageyourcellar.com and CellarTracker.com will help you catalogue your wine collection, with wines listed by country and region. You can check ratings and values, and find out when your wine is ready to drink. All are free to try, though registration is required to fully participate.

Board Links: FREE ONLINE WINE CATALOGUING

Hot Sauce with Flavor

El Yucateco is a hot sauce with plenty of habanero heat, but it’s flavorful and aromatic, as well. Try the red and green, both made from habanero chiles. This sauce is produced in the Yucatan, where it’s a big favorite.

Board Links: Great Hot Sauce: El Yucateco

Making the Best of “No Eats Valley”

Noe Valley gets a big “eh” from hounds in comparison to more chowish nabes like the Mission, the Inner Sunset, or Clement Street. Inexpensive options are especially sparse. But one can’t always travel across town for every meal, so the following is a local survival guide.

The only places garnering near-uniform raves are La Ciccia and Incanto, both Italian. Other solid, though lesser, Italian options are Lupa for pasta, and Bacco.

Hamano is the favorite for neighborhood sushi. It can be great, and often has fish hard to find elsewhere, reports Windy.

Firefly makes upscale Californian cuisine that gets mostly thumbs-up, despite occasionally disastrous service.

Mi Lindo Yucatan makes some unusual Mexican dishes, and the appetizer platter is worth getting, but some items bomb, says veebee.

Fresco (Peruvian) and Eric’s (Chinese) are at-your-own-risk. At Fresca, ceviche is delicious to some palates but harsh and acidic to others. Reviews for Eric’s range from amazing to inedible, in the great San Francisco tradition of strongly bifurcated opinions of Asian restaurants catering primarily to non-Asian clientele.

In the brunch wars–as close as Noe Valley ever gets to conflict–Pomelo is a sweet little place with a wide enough menu to satisfy diverse tastes. Savor stands out for its “New Orleans benedict,” make with a crab cake. Chloe’s is good for breakfast, but, oy, the crowds.

La Ciccia [Noe Valley]
291 30th St., San Francisco
415-550-8114
Map

Incanto Restaurant & Wine Bar [Noe Valley]
1550 Church St., San Francisco
415-641-4500
Map

Lupa [Castro]
4109 24th St., San Francisco
415-282-5872
Map

Ristorante Bacco [Noe Valley]
737 Diamond St., San Francisco
415-282-4969
Map

Hamano Sushi [Noe Valley]
1332 Castro St., San Francisco
415-826-0825
Map

Firefly [Mission]
4288 24th St., San Francisco
415-821-7652
Map

Mi Lindo Yucatan [Noe Valley]
4042 24th St., San Francisco
415-826-3942
Map

Fresco [Noe Valley]
3945 24th St., San Francisco
415-695-0549
Map

Eric’s [Noe Valley]
1500 Church St., San Francisco
415-282-0919
Map

Pomelo [Noe Valley]
1793 Church St., San Francisco
415-285-2257
Map

Savor Restaurant [Noe Valley]
3913 24th St., San Francisco
415-282-0344
Map

Chloe’s [Noe Valley]
1399 Church St., San Francisco
415-648-4116
Map

Board Links: Noe Valley

Is It Napa? Is It France? It’s Angele

Overlooking the Napa River, Angele is among the top unstuffy French restaurants in the area, and it’s lighter and more Californian than others like Bistro Jeanty and Bouchon, says Wendy san.

Everything is outstanding, from generous starters of quail salad, peach salad with arugula and Serrano ham, and tart Lyonnaise, to entrees of pork medallions, spring chicken, and salmon with ravioli. The pommes frites arrive piping hot and are among the best Wendy san has ever had. Desserts shine, too, including profiteroles and warm chocolate cake.

With a nice bar, a lovely view, and all-day service, Angele is a winner in the North Bay.

Angele [Napa County]
Napa River Inn
540 Main St., Napa
707-252-8115
Map

Board Links: Dinner at Angele–Napa (Long)

Best Hole-in-the-Wall Gelato

This little hole-in-the-wall gelateria has lower prices and much better gelato than the often-touted Al Gelato, says Nicole. The owner is super-nice and generous with tastes. Fruit flavors are excellent and natural tasting–strawberry is great. Hazelnut, almond, and coconut are also really good. The owner makes small batches twice a day, so it’s really fresh. Limited seating, but the space is nice.

Gelato Fantasia [Culver City-ish]
10422 National Blvd., Motor, Los Angeles
310-280-9771
Map

Board Links: Al Gelato Disappointment