Thursday, April 21, 2011

Pine Garden: Not As Fresh As It Sounds

When I heard about a Chinese place in Boca Raton, Florida that had a wide array of vegan food, I almost jumped out of my skin. Most of the Chinese places I've been to in Florida consisted of greasy meat heavy dishes coated in a disgusting fish sauce, so to hear of a restaurant that actually created a whole separate menu for vegans excited me. Not to mention it wasn't too far from my grandma's house. Thus, the two of us ventured to Pine Garden Restaurant to take advantage of their lunch specials.

As we walked in around lunchtime, I noticed the restaurant was fairly empty. My stomach churned and I worried the food might not be all that I was hyping it up to be. We took our seats and I kindly asked the waitress for the vegan menu and she returned with two menus for us to scan over. While we were deciding on what to order, the waitress brought us some crackers for us to munch on.

These crackers most likely came out of a pre-packaged bag and were dumped into a bowl to look sophisticated, but they really tasted great. They were lightly seasoned and had a great crunch. It was a great way to start the meal and dipped in the "duck" sauce, they were even more delectable.

The lunch special includes a choice of soup, spring rolls and a choice of entree for only $8. To start out, I  ordered the hot and sour soup.

This soup was delicious. It could have been spicier, but it still had a great flavor and slight notes of vinegar.  It was also loaded with delicious vegetables and soft chunks of tofu. It was in a pretty large bowl and was fairly filling.

Next, the entrees came, accompanied by a mound of brown rice and a spring roll. The spring roll was very crispy and crunchy with softened, well-seasoned vegetables inside. This made up for the lack of vegetables that were in the entrees, which was quite disappointing.

First, I dug into my entree: General Tso's "Chicken".

The dish was much smaller than I had imagined it to be, yet it somehow managed to be quite filling. The sauce was very juicy and had a succulent taste. It was just so sweet and flavorful. However, I was let down by the faux meat. It was very rubbery and chewy and did not measure up to the faux meats I have become spoiled by. I don't think I would have been able to continue eating this if it wasn't for the scrumptious sauce. The steamed broccoli on its own was fairly bland, although putting some sauce on it somehow magically transformed it.

My grandma ordered the orange beef, but couldn't finish it, so I ended up eating a large portion of it.

Her dish tasted so similar to mine. The "beef" also had the same odd consistency and was difficult to chew. The sauce was just as delicious and almost identical, except it was a little less sweet and had a more tangy flavor. I would have loved to see some vegetables stir-fried in to make it a little more healthy and to offset the chewiness of the faux meat.

Lastly, the waitress brought out some fortune cookies to finish out the meal. I glared at it in contempt, since I've been told most fortune cookies are made from eggs.  Out of curiosity I read through the ingredients and surprisingly, there were no animal ingredients to be found! This totally made up for the mediocre "meats".

Overall, I would like to applaud Pine Garden's attempt of creating vegan dishes. They are one of the few restaurants in this area that seems to acknowledge that vegans exist and enjoy innovative food. I love that they try to mimic vegan meats, but I seriously wish they would perfect them more before placing them on the menu. I would much rather them pull some gardein out a box than serve something almost inedible. I really hope they work this out, as they have so much potential. They are already so devoted, having created a whole menu for vegans, and I would love for them to be as good as the restaurants in Los Angeles. Nevertheless, I would still recommend their lunch special, as it's a great deal and the food is very tasty. Skip the faux meats, though, and head straight for the tofu.

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