I haven't seen anything posted about Dharma Garden, so I thought I'd share the excellent meal I had there last night. It's a fairly new vegetarian and seafood-only Thai place at 3109 W. Irving Park.
We started off with two appetizers, which was too much food; next time I'd only order one. But everything sounded so good. The Dharma Garden spring rolls were fat rolls wrapped in rice paper with basil, mint, noodles, tofu, and something that packed some kick to it, perhaps jalapeno, but a heat that subtly grew instead of smacking you with a loud hello. We also ordered the chive dumplings, which they were out of, so we tried the sweet corn patties instead: deep fried cakes with kernels, taro, sweet potatoes, a hint of curry, and some other vegetables. I can't eat too much deep fried food, but these were delicious.
For dinner I ordered my old standby, Lad Nar, and can genuinely say it's the best I've had in Chicago. The flavors were all so delicately balanced, with a sauce that wasn't too thick or too sweet, as many places tend to do it. Plus there was a fantastic assortment of vegetables; the menu said the dish included okra, which I didn't see any of, but there was so much else in there that I didn't mind.
My friend was trying to choose a spicy entree, with great difficulty because they all sounded excellent. Something about Dharma Garden had us excited about what we were going to eat from the moment we walked in, it's hard to explain, but we were not let down. After talking with the waitress, he settled on the Spicy Cashew, and ordered it hot. I had mentioned to the waitress earlier that I'd been having stomach problems, and she knew we were sharing both dishes, so she cautioned us - for my belly's sake - to order it as a medium. We agreed, and am glad we did, it packed enough heat as a medium. My friend was going to add some additional peppers or hot sauce to his, but decided against it because the flavor was so good on it's own, he didn't want to affect that. The dish had pineapples, carrots, mushrooms, pea pods, onions and some other stuff, all of which seemed very fresh.
And now for my favorite part of the meal: their imitation meat, which was in both the dishes ordered. It's not tofu, it's not seitan, it's not tempeh; I've never really had anything quite like it. I suspect they make it on premises, it's similar to the texture of frozen tofu. But it did a great job of absorbing the flavors of each dish, while enhancing the overall texture.
We also ordered smoothies. One of the proprietors has studied herbal medicine, and most of the smoothies were aimed at helping one ailment or another. Unfortunately, she didn't list that on the menu; I had to ask her which was good for what. The place seemed to have a big emphasis on natural healing. Once she found out that I was having stomach problems, our server was very attentive, pointing out things on the menu I might like, ingredients that would help.
I was impressed by the freshness and quality of ingredients used in the dishes, and look forward to returning to try some of their fish. I've been told that the mussels are excellent as well. Dharma Garden is a place that I am highly recommending to my friends, especially the vegetarians, and look forward to many return visits myself.
3109 W. Irving Park
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