Reviews written by 森

Registered on Nov 9 06
 

Cafe Dhaka in Peninsula and South Bay, California
Nov 21 06

rating star

The place advertises itself as offering Bengali, Indian and Pakistani food. The air in the restaurant was pretty cold. The waiter must have realized he hadn't prepared the space properly for customers (I was the first one in the place just before 6pm) and went over to the thermostat presumably to turn it up without having to be asked. He was very pleasant and welcoming, interested in chatting but not at all intrusive. The place looks very clean and well put together, though a bit bright with lots of overhead flourescent lighting.

The menu has some interesting and unfamiliar items on it and is an amusing mashup of South Asian and Americana. Fries, hamburgers, chicken nuggets, a Thai dish, and some standards that will be immediately familiar to experienced patrons of Indian restraurants share space on the menu. The prices are surprisingly low. At somewhere between $4 and $5 my entree was in the upper-mid range of items on the menu.

The basmati rice was overcooked and looked excessively bleached out, seemed like cheap rice. The dal's subtle blend of flavors, fresh garlic, onions, herbs and lentils, was stellar. Likewise, the banana flower, a house specialty entree, was excellently and richly flavored, a little on the salty side like the roti, but otherwise very skillfully handled. I was happy to encounter a couple unknown dishes on the menu and enjoyed the artichoke-like texture of the banana flower.

It seemed as cold by the time I finished my meal as it had been when I first walked in. My food cooled far too fast in this environment and didn't taste nearly as good cold as it had warm.

Quantities of food served were very appropriate and I ate well without getting overly full for under $11 before the tip. Having lately spent over twice that much at numerous restaurants of all types where the food is handled less than half as skillfully as it is at Cafe Dakha, I consider this restaurant a real find. It's been open about 6 months and I infer it still lacks a solid customer base since the waiter felt the need to repeatedly encourage me to return and tell all my friends about the place. Overall the Cafe is a very nice surprise.

2nd visit:
The place is cold again: People at other tables are huddled under their shawls and in their coats and the waiter asks me if it feels chilly to me shortly after I arrive, though I happen to find it comfortable this time. The waiter is as upbeat and friendly as ever. I try another house specialty, labra. This dish is pretty bland, but I enjoy that it has pumpkin and/or some other squash in it, interesting and uncommon touch. The cook comes out to chat, is as friendly and sincere as the waiter, and expresses a clearly genuine interest in finding out what I liked and didn't like about the food and how it could be improved. Uncommonly great service for a restaurant in this price range. If they ever fix the temperature and do a little decorating, Cafe Dhaka could become a top local pick.

Chaat House in Peninsula and South Bay, California
Nov 21 06

rating star

This review is for Chaat House #4. The place looks like a converted Burger King from its seating to its order counter to its exposed kitchen. There are nice touches from the Indian subcontinent though including a fountain and statues of Hindu gods, Bollywood film playing on dual TVs, etc. The place is fairly noisy and certainly not romantic, but it's fun. The food was ready pretty quickly. All the dishes I had, bindhi masala, benghan bharta, and basmati rice, were very nicely flavored. The roti were tasty too. In particular it was nice to receive an order of rice that was well cooked and included subtle spices when many of the local south Asian restaurants serve plain white rice of lesser quailty. The entrees were also hotter (in terms of spice) than those usually served in local restaurants, again a big plus for me. Menu is all vegetarian, nice!

Garden Fresh Vegetarian Restaurant in Peninsula and South Bay, California
Nov 21 06

rating star

One of the servers was friendly, chatty and welcoming and made my stay more pleasant, one server was all business, not warm or friendly. The decor is very sparse, not a romantic or cozy place. The rice shake drink was REALLY delicious and worth a second visit in and of itself. The shui jiao (dumplings appetizer) were mushy, too big, with too much dough coating lending a doughiness on top of the mushiness, and quite bland. Contents seemed to be overcooked vegetable mush. They came with no sauce so I had to make my own from the soy and pepper sauces already at the table. Main entree, string beans with vegan chicken, was more flavorful than the dumplings but not very appealing. Drenched in uncomfortably sweet brown sauce with little character or spice, though this was described as a spicy dish by the waitress. Greasy food. The string beans were cooked just the right amount though, tender yet crunchy, remarkable. I see the problem is probably just the cooking style doesn't appeal to me, as the chef clearly knows what he or she is doing in at least some respects. Unfortunately this greasy, doughy, sugar-drowned cooking style is so common with the vegetarian Chinese restaurants in the South Bay. The portions of the appetizer and entree were excessive. Brown rice was brought with the food without my asking, such a pleasant and rare surprise.

As the restaurant filled up during peak time it became clear 2 waitresses isn't enough for the crew to be able to provide high quality customer service and my table got very little attention. Still, the friendlier of the 2 waitresses kept a good attitude and composure and found a little time to chat amiably with guests at other tables, admirable. I really appreciate anyone running a business catering to vegetarians and feel thankful for their work, I wish I could honestly find more positive things to say, but unfortunately I can't recommend this restaurant on any other merits than being able to enjoy feeling confident the food is vegetarian, the properly-cooked beans, the tasty rice drink, the brown rice and the good spirit of one of the waitresses. Appealing flavor and pleasant ambiance are for the most part seriously lacking.

Great Vegi Land in Peninsula and South Bay, California
Nov 9 06

rating star

Very well-lit interior with offbeat painting scheme, bright summer-colored walls in several surprising shades. It would be hard to be somber in here if you tried. Not romantic because of the loudness of the colors and the high light level, but certainly very clean and well put-together looking place. Charming natural wood chairs that don't go well at all with the rest of the decor. Recently remodeled according to the owner and shows it.

Owner/waitress is very friendly and welcoming, happy to chat. Restaurant was not busy so I got plenty of attention. Owner is Taiwanese with Henan ancestry, don't know about the cooking since she has someone else doing it. Cook passed through the dining room and was friendly as well. Presentation of food was above average aesthetically. Brown rice was available, very nice.

Appetizers, shui jiao (dumplings), were quite bland. Had to make my own dip on my plate using soy and pepper sauces already at the table. Main dish, veggie chicken with vegetables, was also quite nondescript, typical veggie meat in unimaginative puddle of light brown goo. Not appealing at all and needed the same hot pepper and soy treatment as the appetizers, sign of mediocre cooking. Vegetables in the dish were cooked really nicely though, crisp yet tender.

The oolong tea was tasty.

The owner was really sweet and a pleasure to talk with. She brought out orange slices for my dessert which was the best part of the meal. I wish I liked the rest of the food more because the environment here was really pleasant, mostly because of the owner's glow which is almost entirely responsible for this restaurant rating over 3. If the food were more appealing this place would be a fine spot for informal get togethers with buddies thanks to the atmosphere.

Hoa Xuan Vegetarian Restaurant in Peninsula and South Bay, California
Nov 9 06

rating star

This hole in the wall is one of Grand Century Plaza's best kept secrets. I wandered through the mall plenty of times without even noticing Hoa Xuan. For what it is, the deli-restaurant does a really fine job. There's a deli case of flavorful and authentic-tasting Vietnamese vegetarian classics, various familiar tofu dishes, and don't miss the tasty veggie fish slices. As is typical of the vegetarian Vietnamese places in the South Bay the prices are ridiculously low and the flavors assertive. You can feed a family of four on Hoa Xuan takeout for under $20 and have leftovers.

Better yet, if you speak Vietnamese or want a little communication challenge as an appetizer you can try ordering something from the kitchen. Odds are good the person you're ordering from doesn't understand English, but it's worth the effort to make some understanding happen because the fresh dishes are truly memorable. Say "Huh?" and throw an "F" sound in front of it and you'll hopefully end up being served some tasty and again remarkably authentically flavored vegan soup, complete with a side plate of fresh basil, sprouts, lime and sliced hot peppers you get to drop into the broth yourself. Most of the hot dishes I've ordered are excellent.

The staff are usually friendly and charming despite the language barrier. Sometimes there's a person at the register whose English fluency is high.

Tables spill out of their tiny delifront into the hall of the mall and the larger food court dining area, nothing romantic or quiet about the setting. The food is good enough that it seems not to belong in such a place and is crying out for a real restaurant space.

My only issue with the food is that, typical of this cuisine, it tends to be pretty salty and sweet, sometimes excessively so. Most dishes have a relatively rich palette of captivating and strong underlying flavors though, and are certainly a cut above most salty and sweet Asian fare.

This is the best of the bargain Vietnamese veggie houses I've come across in the South Bay so far, Dong Phuong Tofu and Di Lac being not far behind.

Kokila's Kitchen in Peninsula and South Bay, California
Nov 21 06

rating star

I waited for a while after sitting down at a table, looked around at the lack of decor, and wondered why it was taking so long for a menu to be brought to my table. That gave me enough time to notice someone getting up to fill their plate from a buffet, so it became clear the wait staff had assumed I knew dining at their restaurant was all buffet-style and had negelected to invite me to serve myself.

A server brought a glass of something that clearly had milk products in it without my asking for it. I confirmed it had yogurt in it, declined it, and asked about the buffet. The server invited me to serve myself and didn't ask if I wanted anything else to drink. That was the last conversation I had with a server here because none ever returned to bring a drinks menu or take my order for anything else.

The dishes at the buffet were all vegetarian, so I enjoyed that there was a diversity of things to try. The dishes were mediocre. Almost nothing stood out as being particularly appetizing. The bindhi masala was the one thing that was nicely flavored, hot and spicy, but was really way too salty to eat much of it.

Much more pleasant restaurants offering far tastier versions of the same vegetarian food served here and with better service are plentiful enough in the area that there's little reason to return here unless the location is convenient at some future date.

Lu Lai Garden in Peninsula and South Bay, California
Nov 9 06

rating star

I was greeted with a blank, uninviting expression and no words of welcome by one of the waiters when I entered the restaurant. The other looked at me obliquely with a really unusual expression that could be described as aloof and quirky. No smiles here.

I appreciated that the menu made note that some dishes contain egg and milk, and those that contain egg are marked as such, though in nearly microscopic print which is rotated 60 degrees from normal reading direction. No magnifying glass accompanied the menu.

The restaurant takes cash only so I had to swing by the Chinese grocery, buy some organic soba, and do a cash back transaction to pay for my take out dinner from Lu Lai. I wasn't asked if I wanted rice with my order, an obvious omission a good waiter should address when a restaurant doesn't automatically include rice with entrees as is unfortunately the case here. My take out order was handed to me with no rice and no utensil of any kind which is again a thoughtless oversight considering all the hotels in the area and the many transient forkless customers this restaurant must serve.

The dumplings (appetizer) included a very small amount of sauce, perhaps 2 tablespoons, that seemed to be nothing more than vinegar with red food coloring in it, very unpalatable. The dumplings themselves were bland and brought no pleasure to the taste buds.

Entree 1, Szechuan vegetarian shrimp with mushrooms, was advertised as a spicy dish. It was painfully sweet and greasy and hardly spicy at all. The coating on the shrimp and mushrooms convincingly imitated the consistency and taste of chicken skin, which was truly unpleasant. I peeled the coating off the veggie shrimp to get at them but didn't bother trying to extract the mushrooms which were outweighed 3 to 1 by their slimy coating and got lost in it.

Entree 2, Black Pepper Beef, again advertised as a spicy dish, was a puddle of nondescript brown sauce, certainly not at all spicy, which reminded me of turkey TV dinners I had decades ago. Very little to distinguish the sauce from any other gravy. Salty and greasy with overcooked vegetables that looked and tasted like the stringy stems and remnants left after the best parts of the veggies were taken to prepare a real dish. The veggie meat swimming in the sauce was generic in flavor.

Nothing to recommend here other than convenient location right off highways 880 and 237 and assurance that the food is vegetarian.

Pad Thai Cuisine in Peninsula and South Bay, California
Nov 21 06

rating star

The food here is good and when you order young coconut juice you get a fresh young coconut that has just been cracked open for you instead of sugar water with a little coconut flavoring as is typical of so many restaurants. The service around lunch time seems just average to indifferent, but the guy who serves at night is really nice and friendly and it's worth going to dinner here just to enjoy his great attitude, makes the atmosphere of the place very inviting. After I'd been to the restaurant a few times he invited me to sample some traditional Thai vegan food his family was eating for a holiday that prescribed this kind of food, no extra charge to me for trying it, very nice gesture. The place has pretty nice decor and ambiance, even getting on the romantic side in the evenings when it's very quiet here.

Siam Taste in Peninsula and South Bay, California
Nov 21 06

rating star

Service is friendly and attentive. Decor is reasonably nice. Fairly short wait for food to be served. Nice that there's a choice between a couple non-meat alternatives, I think in addition to tofu there was some kind of plant-based protein that more closely resembled meat in texture, so they can make a nice vegan satay with it. The food is tasty and pleasantly spicy, and brown rice is available. The waitress was able to assure me there was no fish sauce in the curry and other dishes I ordered, and that everything was "very vegetarian," unusual for a Thai place.

This is one of the few Thai places that's willing to make vegan mian kam if I call in advance and give them time to prepare it, though they can't get the same leaf that's used in the dish in Thailand.

Udupi Palace in Peninsula and South Bay, California
Nov 9 06

rating star

There were no indications on the menu about whether there were dairy products in various dishes. I asked the waiter if certain dishes on the menu were strict vegetarian and he didn't know so went to ask in the kitchen, an effort I appreciated. Both of the things I asked about turned out not to be vegan. Rather than asking him to make a third trip to ask about something in the kitchen, which he didn't look interested in doing, I asked for a suggestion and the waiter had trouble coming up with something. Finally he suggested I have a veggie pancake and some dahl. That it was brought out with a serving of yogurty something on the side showed a lack of communication between the waiter and the kitchen about my concerns.

The pancake was very bland and seemed to be made of white flour with scant bits of tomato and other vegetable mixed in. The dahl was more flavorful and provided something for me to dip the pancake in to make it worth eating, though the dahl was itself barely passable. A side dish of rice with some typical Indian spices was the most competently cooked item, though it was nothing special and certainly couldn't save the meal from being sub-par.

The price seemed really high for what I got. Overall it was an unpleasant meal at a place that doesn't offer much for vegans, though vegetarians may fare better.