Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Zen Garden

This was originally posted to kw.eats in June 2004.
Unable to avoid the bold new signage that graces the building on King and Princess, G and I visited Zen Garden this week. Our first impression was pretty good. Upon entering, it's clear that the old Hanna's bistro has undergone a major renovation. Gone were the dark entrance and eclectic decor. They've been replaced with a peaceful, err, Zen like openness with pale green walls, natural wood tones and bamboo furniture. It appears the owners have attempted to put a bit of "design" into place place, as opposed to running it like a generic Chinese eatery that you often see elsewhere. Now while food should be the focus of any restaurant, providing a pleasing atmosphere is probably not too far down in the scale of things that attract customers -- although my view is a bit slanted right now due to all the home improvements I've been going through over the last few months.. too much HGTV... but I digress.

Being an Asian vegetarian restaurant, the immediate comparison is of course Lotus Tea House. The approaches are quite different though - Lotus has a limited selection of fairly basic dishes driven presumably by Buddhist guidelines, while Zen Garden has a much larger selection of items which are more heavily seasoned and reflect more traditional meat based dishes. Their menu sections included appetizers, combos, sushi, noodles, teas, dessert, each of which had between 5-15 items. Combos were all $12.99 for dinner ($5.99 for lunch I believe). The dinner combos all include soup, a spring roll, the entree served in a japanese bento box and dessert. There were about 15 entrees to choose from, although most of them escape my memory at the moment. The soup was a heavily seasoned seaweed miso soup, on the salty side compared to the richer vegetable broth at Lotus. The spring roll was fairly standard, although served with a slice of red pepper and carrots as a garnish - more pleasing to the eye than some brown on a stark white plate. We also had a fried fillet appetizer, which kind
of reminded me of what Captain Highliner might produce if he made a vegetarian fish stick. Some ingredients pressed together in the shape of a fish, battered and fried.

For the main course, I had the deep fried enoki mushrooms wrapped in seaweed which were quite tasty, although I believe it would be difficult to batter and fry something and not make it taste good. Included in the bento box were steamed vegetables (broccoli and cauliflower), deep fried tofu, steamed rice and soy sauce for dipping.

G had the "beef" noodles off of the noodle section of the menu. I think this was in the $6-8 range. It appears these items are the more typical single dishes you might find in a meat-based Chinese restaurant. This dish was the equivalent of beef ho fan with tofu instead of sliced beef. Nothing spectacular.

Dessert was a coffee tea jelly served with cream - a bit heavy on the coffee side for my palate which leans towards the sugary western dessert.

Service was very quick and friendly - something I was pleasantly surprised with considering the restaurant was only 1.5 weeks new. We didn't have to wait hardly anytime for orders to be taken, appetizers or the main dish.

Overall, it has a very difficult comparison with Lotus being run as a non-profit. While Zen Garden has a much better selection of dishes, the prices are quite a bit steeper. I spoke to the owner briefly, and he indicated that it was the first restaurant they've open and run. Pretty good for a first attempt.. I'd probably return once in awhile as it's very close to work and not overly pricey.

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