18 hungry chowhounds journeyed north yesterday to celebrate the end of summer with lunch at the City of 10,000 Buddhas, a monastery in Ukiah.
We met up at the Healdsburg farmer's market, where we stocked up on heirloom tomatoes, fingerling potatoes, organic peppers, caramel dip made from goat cheese, and some wild looking mushrooms. We then caravaned north to the monastery, roughly 110 miles north of San Francisco.
The restaurant accommodates about 100 people. Reservations are not necessary, although Yimster had called ahead and arrranged a set menu. All the food is vegetarian; further, no garlic or onions are used in the preparations. The good news: you won't miss them.
The first course was the combination lo wei, a series of wrapped bean sheets, made to resemble smoked chicken, stuffed duck, and a sesame-wrapped roll stuffed with pickled radish that reminded me of sushi. Sweet roasted cashews adorned the platters. The "duck," stuffed with mushrooms, was the clear favorite at my table. Exquisite.
Yimster pre-ordered the three jewel soup, and this split my table down the middle. The soup had a bitter broth, with a variety of mysterious "meats"--a mock fish cake, mushrooms, and a fantastic meatloaf like substance that we speculated might be made from gluten. I found the broth dreadful ("medicinal" being the most frequent comment) but liked many of the items in the stew. Ben was the only member of my table who felt the soup was "outstanding" and described the kitchen's cooking at the "culmination of soy technology."
The next dish was bamboo heart (pith), sauteed with tomatoes and mushrooms. I'd never had bamboo heart before and loved it. It looked like tripe but had a spongy texture that soaked up wth sauce. (With many dishes, we found ourselves comparing them to non-vegetarian dishes; I don't mean to offend any vegetarians with the comparisons.) D.Doodad found this dish a little subtle.
At this point, the platters were arriving faster than we could eat them. The mushrooms with basil was a crowd favorite. Not a traditional Chinese dish, the mushrooms had a chewy texture as if they had been dried. Yimster speculated they had been fried first.
A platter of sweet and sour tofu puffs was a wonderful blend of textures. Deep fried, stuffed with mushrooms, crunchy, it reminded me of the pleasures of fried chicken. The sauce was described as "viscous." If I have any criticism of the kitchen, it's that they are too generous with their sauces. Many of the bean sheets were delicate and easy overpowered by so much liquid.
Another platter arrived with cakes in a mild coconut curry sauce. Inside they were fluffy; like a bean sheet Spanish omelet. They were adorned with juliened carrots. This is where another stomach would have come in handy.
The jade rolls arrived, crunchy sheets of phyllo-like pastry stuffed with bean sprouts and vegetables, in a warm broth. If I went again, I'd probably ask for the sauce on the side, but even Sophia the chowbaby seemed to enjoy the rolls
Finally a platter of shitake mushrooms, adorned with a seaweed fungus. Low End Theory said this was one of his favorite dishes. I had been scraping the fancy black fungus off because I didn't like the slimy texture.
Fresh fruit, including sweet slices of honeydew and oranges, and crumbly white chocolate chip cookies finished the lunch.
Several people commented how good they felt despite eating so much--ordinarily, so many dishes would induce a food coma. Was it the absence of meat, the lack of carbohydrates, or the good vibes from the monastery?
The monastery can be reached at 707 462 0939; the restaurant is called Jyun Kang. It's located at the end of Talmage Road, about 2 miles east of 101. Peacocks roam the grounds. We didn't see too many monks, but the temperature was in the 90s by the time we left.
Our set lunch cost $18 each, including tax and tip. The courses run from $6-12. Drinks were extra and included fresh carrot juice. Many of us also took home frozen buns, fresh dried seaweed, and a mysterious "spaghetti sauce" made with cucumbers. And I magically ended up with the cookies.
After lunch, we made at stop at Jepson Winery. Look for notes on our tasting. I especially enjoyed sampling the fresh pressed grape juices. Quick detours included the Phoenix bakery in Hopland and the Solar Living Center, where we enjoyed the solar sprinkler system, picked up a few non-edible items, and fed the fish in the pong.
Our last stop was the taco trucks on Sebastopol Rd in Santa Rosa. Mark Braunstein prepared maps based on Melanie Wong's reports of the area and his recent scouting, although Mark, Louise, and Melanie had to leave after lunch.
Look for a writeup of dinner from Ben & Arlene. I only wish I had been hungrier. It was a lovely way to spend a Saturday night, walking under a full moon, enjoying quesadillas and pambazos alongside Latino families. I even enjoyed a bite of a tripe burrito.
A long day, even for us endurance 'hounds, but a deeply satisfying one. Thanks to everyone for their contributions too; we raised nearly $200 for chowhound.com.