People are always asking me about where to find vegetarian food in the metro D.C. area, and back in March I posted a review of several vegetarian or veg-friendly eateries in the area. Well I have another to add after this weekend, thanks to my ever-so-thoughtful non-vegetarian husband who — even though he’s so not a vegetarian — always keeps an eye out for vegetarian restaurants we haven’t been to yet. That’s the kind of guy he is, even though I like to joke that he was on the Atkin’s Diet before there was an Atkin’s Diet.
So I wasn’t surprised when he told me about Sunflower Restaurant, which was totally vegetarian and has locations in Falls Church and Vienna, VA. Initially, I thought maybe Cafe Sunflower, where Katharine and I had dinner once, had branched out of Atlanta. That would have been fine by me, but when I checked out the menu online I was even more intrigued. We made plans to visit for dinner
We chose the Falls Church location because — and I kid you not — I thought the building looked nicer than the Vienna location, which was the same distance from our place. If the food at the Vienna location is as good as what we had, it’ll be well worth the travel time.
The sign outside said “Grand Opening” and the interior looked freshly painted, so I think it’s a new place. New or not, the staff knew what they were doing. When they brought water to our table, they asked if we wanted a smaller cup for Parker, and when we said yes, they brought him a cute little mug with a Sunflower on it. That got the thumbs up from Parker.
The hubby and I chimed in on our approval when they brought out our appetizer, the “Japanese Style BBQ Kabobs.” First, the sauce. I’ll admit up front that I’m a complete wimp when it comes to hot, spicy foods. It’s not the spiciness I object to, but the heat. I’d like to start a minor gourmet revolution to divorce the words “hot” and “spicy” from each other, because the two have become synonymous in a way I think they shouldn’t be. Spicy, to me, doesn’t necessary mean “hot,” but that the combination of spices used create an intense flavor that might be sweet or savory, but not subtle and not necessarily spicy. In fact, I think too often heat is a substitute for spiciness, or an intensity or complexity of flavor that requires you to bring something to the experience of the meal besides a glass of water. Heat, to often overwhelms flavor or becomes a stand-in for it. (The “hot & spicy” dishes on the Sunflower restaurant menu can be adjusted to taste.)
But back to the “Japanese Style BBQ Kabobs.” The sauce was the right kind of spiciness as far as I’m concerned. Intense and complex, leaving an aftertaste that made us want more of it. It was enhanced by the perfectly grilled vegetables and soy protein, which was charred just enough to give everything a pleasant smokey flavor. And the vegetables were perfectly cooked as well, grilled just enough make them tender and to almost caramelize their natural sugars. The hubby and I both remarked that a few more kabobs, served on a bed of fried bean thread noodles, would have turned the appetizer into a satisfying entree.
Japanese Style BBQ Kabobs
Grilled fresh white mushroom, fresh shiitake mushroom,yummy soy protein, asparagus & zucchini. Garnished w. fried bean thread noodles & organic mixed green.
But then our actual entrees came. I had the “Golden Nugget” entree, and the hubby ordered the “Orange Imagination” special. Parker — and this is probably my only criticism of Sunflower Vegetarian Restaurant, that there’s no children’s menu — sampled from our entrees. (On the other hand, children’s menus, half the time, mean that you pay for more food than the kid is going to eat in the first place. So perhaps it’s just as well that Parker sampled from our entrees.
Marinated yuba (bean curd skin) wrapped with shredded shiitake mushrooms, soy protein and bamboo shoots in house brown sauce. Garnished with sauteed napa cabbage, broccoli, bean thread noodles and carrots.
The “Golden Nugget” entree, like the appetizer, was perfectly seasoned. It wasn’t as intensely flavored as the appetizer, but no less pleasing with a sauce that was a subtle blend of savory and sweet, again perfectly sauteed, crisp vegetables, and a centerpiece of shredded shitake mushrooms, bamboo shoots and soy protein wrapped in marinated bean curd skins. The only thing I didn’t care for so much were the bean thread noodles, which were boiled this time, and I think that’s because the texture. That’s neither here nor there in terms of the excellence of the dish.
The hubby’s “Orange Imagination” special, which I think he ordered because it might also appeal to Parker, was equally good. The sauce was slightly sweeter than the sauce on my entree, and the garnish of pine nuts and Thai basil again provided complexity of flavor without overwhelming with heat.
Parker finished off the meal with the organic pumpkin tofu pie, which he referred to as “pumpkin cake.” I never cared for pumpkin pie. I think it’s because it looks so much like sweet potato pie, one of my favorites. It doesn’t taste like sweet potato pie, something I didn’t realize until I bit into my first slice of pumpkin pie, which also turned out to be my last. Never the less, it got the thumbs up from Parker (no surprise there) and the hubby.
One of the thing I love about restaurants like Sunflower Vegetarian is that I can choose from the entire, rather than just two or three items. And any dish I choose is going to be well and thoughtfully prepared, rather than the afterthought that you used to get when you tried to order a vegetarian dish in a restaurant. You know? The sauteed vegetables on a bed of pasta?
I can’t remember the last time I had that. And I don’t foresee having it again in the near future. I do foresee having several more dinners at