Some restaurant mission statements are more ambitious than others. Consider the manifesto posted at Veggie Village. Invoking phrases like “unconditional compassion” and “protection of the environment,” the sign promises to enlighten non-vegetarians with “a wide range of food choices.”
While I have always regarded myself as a do-gooder and big believer in unconditional compassion, I really, really love to eat animal flesh. I cannot easily refute any of the ethical, environmental or nutritional arguments in favor of vegetarianism, but to actually convert me? It would take a village.
So it follows that this pleasant eatery in North-Central Phoenix would offer the strongest case I’ve encountered so far.
The overall thrust of Veggie Village is nouveau Asian, with a small dining room evincing the clean, spare look favored by modern Japanese restaurants and high-end reflexology clinics. Similarly, the cuisine will be familiar to any fan of Pacific Rim dining – albeit, if I may coin the term, pseudo-carne-centric in sensibility.
The menu offers chicken, fish, ham, even mutton – mock-meat approximations of them, anyway, crafted from mushrooms, eggplant, tofu and other vegetable proteins. I found the cream cheese wontons more appetizing than the standard crab puffs served at most Chinese restaurants – light, crisp and thin with a creamy, non-dairy interior.
I asked the server how they made the mystery filling, and she said she didn’t know. No matter, it was quite tasty – enough so to be marketed as I Can’t Believe It’s Not Dairy if someone had the notion. (Dibs.)
After some fine, hearty hot and sour soup brimming with “ham” – or, as Veggie Village calls it, “v-ham,” made from carrots, radish, bamboo shoots, tofu and various kinds of fungus – I moved on to an entrée: General Tso’s “chicken,” probably my favorite Chinese restaurant staple. Featuring flawlessly battered chunks of, well, whatever in a mild spicy-sweet sauce and perfectly cooked vegetables, it wanted for nothing. Not just “good for vegetarian” – good, period.
Also spot on: the sweet and vinegar “fish” bedded in bell peppers and pineapple (doesn’t taste at all like fish, but it does taste great) and the spiced salt tofu, a masterful rendition of a Chinese favorite fueled by fresh little slivers of jalapeño. I confess I found the jab chae, a transparent Korean noodle dish, weirdly rubbery and alien.
Suppose you want to practice compassion, love, etc. but you’re not in the mood for Asian fare? Veggie Village offers an old-fashioned American burger – vegetarian but not vegan, unlike almost everything else on the menu. No one would mistake it for beef – it looks more like a ground chicken patty – but it’s a good, filling bite, so who cares?
There’s an oddity in the hours here that’s worth noting: open Sunday through Friday, but closed on Saturday. On that day, you’ll have to develop your unconditional compassion somewhere else.
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