I’d read about this restaurant on Chowhound, and, being a pescatarian, I was eager to give at least one vegetarian restaurant a try while we were back in New York, before heading home to the wilds of Orlando. Unfortunately, I’d forgotten to bring the address with me when we set out that morning, though I did remember that it was somewhere on Mott Street in Chinatown. Turns out it was on 5 Mott Street, so we pretty much walked the length of the street, and were just about to turn around despairingly, when I caught a glimpse of the very place I’d been seeking.
Because the restaurant was vegetarian, and was frequented by Buddhist monks, I felt reasonably confident that I could order food here without being concerned about those small pieces of mystery meat and those mystery stocks that seem to appear in vegetarian dishes at other Chinese restaurants I’d frequented.
We were seated and were immediately rewarded by the appearance of a Buddhist monk. The Kashrus certificate on the wall testified to this being the kind of restaurant where pork wouldn’t appear on my plate like a slug in my salad.
We ordered a variety of dim sum, which came out one or two at a time. Our first dish was a vegetarian ham rice roll. Living in the wilds of Orlando as we do, we do not have access to vegetarian ham, and I’d been wanting to try some ever since reading about it in one of Linda McCartney’s cookbooks. The texture and appearance are fairly similar to ham, though the taste really isn’t that close to the real thing. Because we were only given chopsticks, not forks, it was extremely difficult to cut the very thick and slippery rice roll into bite sizes. We watched a neighboring table of Asian women struggle with the same dish, until finally one of them asked for a fork. We persisted with the chopsticks, though, and were rewarded, after much effort, with a piece small enough to eat in one bite. These rolls didn’t have a whole lot of flavor; all of the flavor was in the sauce, which was rapidly absorbed by the rice. By the time we’d each finished cutting our first rice rolls, the third roll had absorbed much sauce in some areas, and no sauce in others, so the flavor was a bit spotty. In retrospect, I would not order this dish again.
We also ordered a vegetarian shrimp rice roll, which was yet another mistake. It had even less flavor than the first roll, and by the time this roll arrived, I was all rice-rolled out. We proceeded on to the next dish.
This was a spring roll, kind of a Chinese restaurant standby. Again, it was a bit lacking in flavor, but the dipping sauce that accompanied the dish was quite good and tasted just like a duck sauce, which it probably was.
The next dish was a fried “oyster” served with greens and topped with noodles that were so thin and dark that, unfortunately, it appeared a cat had hacked out a hairball into the middle of our food. The oysters were okay, but lacked flavor. The greens, however, were the real standout here. They were surprisingly rich in flavor, and, paired with the oysters spiced them up to such an extent that the oysters tasted pretty good. This was my second favorite dish of those we ordered. My husband was fascinated by the thinness and texture of the noodles, and he ate most of these. I couldn’t get past the image of a cat hairball enough to give the noodles more than a taste.
Finally, to finish up, we had durian pastry. My husband had been wanting to try durian fruit and, due to the whole “wilds of Orlando” thing (believe it or not, we could get this in Charlotte, but not in Orlando!), this was his one chance. The durian pastry was my favorite dish. It was very warm on the inside, and sweet, though not too sweet. The moist, flavorful filling provided a nice contrast to the flaky, dry pastry.
Overall, while this was a good place to venture to on holiday, it probably isn’t a place to which I’d return. There are so many other great places to eat in Manhattan that the mediocrity of the foods here don’t offset the interesting atmosphere.