Restaurants & Bars

Vegan Chinese: Garden Fresh in Mountain View

Melanie Wong | May 21, 200502:02 AM    

When I called, I’m sure William thought we’d be meeting to check out another ramen-ya. Instead, I suggested that we rotate in some vegan Chinese at Garden Fresh in Mountain View to counterbalance our pork fat intake. I had liked my meal at VegeVillage in Sonoma so much, I wanted to try another restaurant of this type.

The owners of Garden Fresh are from Taiwan. The restaurant has a few tables outside overlooking the parking lot. It was near full on a Thursday night the whole time we were there and did a brisk take-out business. Places are set with forks; we had to ask for chopsticks and then knives. Because prices are low, we ordered two appetizers and three “chef’s special” mains to have more variety.

Things started off pretty badly. The vegi wontons with chili sesame sauce, $3.95, were not only tepid and hard but glued together with sweet goopy paste that tasted more like peanut butter than sesame. The whole mess was buried under a giant haystack of shredded carrots and raw bean sprouts. The grease-laden scallion pancake, $3.50, was edible with an oddly bubbled, deep-fried looking exterior and an undercooked, leaden middle. It was drizzled with sweet and gummy veggie “oyster sauce” and accompanied by raw carrot sticks and green beans flavored with very salty brine that added nothing to the dish. Then we were comped a very bland corn and tofu chowder. I was afraid I was never going to live this down with my brother and that we were in for a long and unsatisfactory meal.

Luckily, the main dishes turned out to be much better. Green Boat (right), $9.95, featured swirl cut strips of black mushroom dusted and fried to almost perfectly mimic the texture of deep-fried beef. The thin spinach linguine was barely cooked and chewy to the bite, albeit buried under too much bean sprouts again. Coated with an overly sweet, sticky ginger sauce, the pile of meat analog mushrooms was topped with a julienne of tender fresh ginger.

Vegetarian Fish (center), $9.95, featuring compacted tofu skin wrapped with seaweed looked like blackened fish on the plate, and the aroma and taste of the seaweed even added a briny seafood quality. The chewy tofu skins had a dryish, flaky texture that simulated fried fish very well, pulling apart at the touch of a chopstick tip. The sweet and sour sauce needed more acidity. Except for the julienned sweet red peppers and enoki mushrooms on top, all the vegetables in the base were next to raw with little flavor development. They were just there for the crunch it seems.

Vegetarian Bundles (left), $7.95, were rouladen of salty soy “ham” slices wrapped around sticks of black mushroom, carrot and celery and laced up. The Shanghai cabbage hearts were a little underdone but at least cooked enough to show their sweet fresh flavor and tenderness. The gingery light sauce on this was a welcome change from the heavier sweeter sauces of the other two.

The vegetarian bundles dish was our pick of the three. Though not perfect, we’d also reorder the other two except not in the same meal. The sweetness of their sauces was too monotonous and similar when served together. The mains were accompanied by brown rice served in bamboo.

The restaurant shares the strip mall with Baskin-Robbins. Even though we were stuffed with veggies and soy products, William wanted to get ice cream. We rewarded our health eating with a Jamocha almond fudge nightcap.

Garden Fresh
1245 W. El Camino Real
Mountain View 94040

Link: http://www.waiter.com/cgi-bin/SCMMOS/...

Image: http://home.earthlink.net/~melaniewon...

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