We ordered another classic Shanghainese cold appetizer, sweet lotus root. I believe the dish is normally prepared with glutinous rice stuffed into the little holes of the root but this version was stuffed with what tasted like dried fruit. My friend said that some unidentifiable flavor in the dish transported him in memory to many a meal in China. The lotus roots had been braised until softened in a sugary, fruity syrup seasoned with that unknown spice.
I had to try the green bean pancake, a vegetarian version of the beef rolls that have been getting rave reviews over at 101 Noodle Express. Of course, I can’t compare the two, but I’d think that any carnivore would be more than pleased with this hot appetizer. A pancake (similar in texture but thinner than scallion pancakes) is rolled around green beans that have been fried with sliced shiitake mushrooms.
The Hunan tofu (without pork) was a spicy dish similar in appearance to its Sichuan equivalent. Unlike mapo tofu though, the slices of soft tofu were cooked with green onions and thin slices of black mushroom; instead of the heat arising from the numbing addition of Sichuan peppercorn, the oily bright red sauce was cooked with slices of fresh chiles. It was pretty great and was the first item on the table to disappear.
The vegetarian kidneys were made of the stuff sold in the packaged vegetarian meat section of Chinese supermarkets. The waitress couldn’t tell us what was the actual ingredient in the substitution although she said she guessed it was made of grain. The texture is a bit rubbery, the shape is almost accurate and the criss-cross design on the top resembles the pattern cut into real kidneys in Chinese cooking. Stir fried with black mushroom, bell peppers and basil, the bland “kidneys” mostly served to provide texture while the cuttings helped the little nuggets to hold the brown sauce.
Better versions of snow cabbage with tofu sheets and fresh soy beans can be found elsewhere. The greens were tough and the sauce lacked depth.
Upon hearing our vegetarian request, the waitress suggested that anything on the menu in the tofu and vegetable sections could be prepared sans meat. In fact, she was so conscientious that she inquired as to whether or not we could have leeks and garlic (ingredients prohibited by many vegetarian Buddhists). She inspected each dish on our table to ensure that her instructions to the kitchen to omit the meat had been followed.
complimentary boiled peanuts arrived before the meal
Our feast for three, with plenty left over totaled $46. The service was attentive and a vegetarian can comfortably enjoy regional fare here without feeling like you are missing the essence of the cuisine.
627 W. Duarte Rd. (626) 445-0606;
Open daily 11:30am-10pm