Beauty of Sprouts

   It’s been some time since I’ve posted a restaurant review, but while vacationing in Florida we came upon a new restaurant that simply must be recognized. If you try to eat vegan, or even just healthfully, then you know how difficult it is to find a restaurant that meets your needs. Even vegetarian restaurants bury their entrées in cheese. Eating a vegan meal when out on the town can stretch your creativity to the limit.

   Today we were fortunate enough to stumble upon Beauty of Sprouts, 1474 Fruitville Rd. Sarasota, FL; 941-350-8449. Chef  Rano has worked at Rockefeller Center and is an award winning chef in her native Russia. Her menu features all vegan, mostly raw, dishes that are lovingly prepared and artfully presented at reasonable prices. Fresh healthy sprouts are the highlight of each dish.

   As an appetizer, we ordered guacamole with spicy dehydrated crackers. The portion was generous enough for two hungry people to nosh on while we waited for our entrées, and we devoured it all. My husband also ordered the mildly seasoned, sprouted hot mung bean soup, because he eats likes to eat soup whenever he can get it. As an entrée he had the vegan burrito, which was wrapped in a chard leaf instead of a flour tortilla. He liked the filling of fresh veggies and side of salsa, but left the chard leaf on the plate — just his personal preference. I had the raw vegan Pad Thai. It was scrumptious! A mountain of thinly sliced cabbage and carrots, kelp noodles and cashews all served in a tangy sauce. I loved it! Several beverage options are on the menu, including some unique teas and homemade Kombucha, but as we were feeling dehydrated after a day of vacation fun we chose the restaurant’s own purified, ionized, alkalinized water to drink. We topped off our meal with a lovely raw lavender crème brulee for dessert. The serving was deceivingly small but filling, and you don’t want to miss this sweet taste of heaven!

   If you like chatting with the friendly chef, clean bright surroundings, and nutritious food, then you will surely enjoy Beauty of Sprouts. This was definitely the healthiest meal of our entire  vacation. We like to eat nutritionally dense food and also to get the most nutrition for our dollar. Beauty of Sprouts meets both criteria. If you ever want a delicious, guilt-free meal in Sarasota, then this is the place for you!

Chen Vegetarian House, 709 Penn Ave. West Reading, PA 19611- Phone: 610-374-2288 or www.chenvegehouse.com

Chen Vegetarian House is an all vegetarian Asian restaurant with a full menu of vegetarian dishes to choose from…just what the health-minded people of Berks County have been waiting for!  Tonight was our first visit there and I was impressed.  We will be going back!  Although this is a small establishment, probably more geared to take-out than dining-in, our experience was entirely enjoyable.

We entered the newly remodeled restaurant (next to Haute Chocolat) and were promptly seated at one of the two tables by the window.  Several other tables were available near the take-out counter.  Our server answered all our questions and explained the menu (Yes, EVERYTHING on the menu is vegetarian — even the chicken, the beef, the pork, and the seafood).  They do not use MSG in any of their food.  We talked and drank green tea until our dinners arrived.  The spring rolls were piping hot and very fresh (not frozen and reheated).  My Pad Thai was delicious, seasoned perfectly with not too much “chicken” and lots of crunchy bean sprouts.  My husband ordered General Tso’s “Chicken” (his favorite) and we were both impressed by the quantity and presentation.  Our meals were delicious and the service was efficient and courteous.

Chen Vegetarian House also features something other Asian restaurants don’t offer — fresh vegetable and fruit juices (3.99) and fruit smoothies (4.29).  Hallelujah!

The menu states that lunches including white or brown rice, hot & sour soup or spring roll, and entrée are only $5.99.  To save time you can pre-order online and pick up at the counter. Business hours are Mon. – Thurs.: 11 am – 10 pm, Fri. and Sat.: 11 am – 10:30 pm, and Sun.: 12 pm – 9:30 pm.  Visa, Mastercard, and Discover are accepted.  Now until 1/31/2014 is their Grand Opening and you get 10% off a minimum $20 order!

If you want a healthy and delicious meal for not a lot of money, then I would highly recommend Chen Vegetarian House.

Mikura Asian Cuisine and Sushi Bar, 840 North Park Rd., Suite #8, Wyomissing, PA 19610, Phone:610-373-5851/8805, 610-927-5555

Mikura is a new Pan-Asian restaurant at the site of the former China King in Wyomissing.  China King was one of our favorite take-out restaurants, but I must admit the dining area was tiny and decor minimal, so we didn’t eat there often. Since Mikura has taken over this location the changes have been dramatic: The restaurant has doubled in size, and they have done major remodeling. It is now decorated in a sophisticated modern Asian theme, dark wood, colorful dimmed pendant lighting, and “stone” wall.  Everything is new, clean and inviting, and the staff goes out of their way to satisfy every request.

I am happy to say the food is still delicious, and the menu has expanded to include many new dishes!  The sushi bar is brand new, and they also offer party trays for office and home catering. They have kept their famous, very reasonably priced ($5.99/person or $5.45 for senior citizens) lunch buffet, although there is not much on the buffet for vegetarians.  We have found that ordering from the menu is a better option for those wanting non-meat dishes.  If you see something you’d like on the regular menu they will do their best to make it vegetarian for you. The menu also includes many vegetarian entrees ( I counted 17, but as stated, they will make any substitutions for meat if you ask).  Some items on the menu are listed as gluten-free and brown rice is available on request if you prefer that to white (yes!).

Mikura is a classy, moderately priced restaurant for lunch, dinner, business, or pleasure. Service is excellent, food is delicious, decor lovely.  Highly recommend!

 

Van’s Cafe, 448 Penn Ave. West Reading, PA 19611, 610-741-6466

Today the Reading Eagle did a nice piece on Van’s Cafe, the new Vietnamese restaurant in West Reading, so we had to go there for lunch to try it for the first time.  For those who are familiar with West Reading, Van’s is occupying the same space as the former Fire and Ice Cafe. The place is casual, the decor minimal, but clean.

I hope I can give it a fair review because my main thought about Van’s is that they won’t win any prizes for speed.  We went on our lunch hour, which was a mistake — don’t go there unless you are under no time constraints.  After sitting at the table for about 15 minutes we went to the counter to order.  I still don’t know if that is how you are supposed to do things there; some people did have a waiter come to take their order, but we and others went to the counter.  No one greeted us, seated us, or told us what to do (a simple sign “Please place your order at the counter” would have been helpful).

The food was very good and fresh.  They had a few vegetarian options.  We both ordered the Vegetarian Spring Rolls and Vegetarian Rice Noodle Soup (huge bowls) called Pho.  I don’t think the soup broth was vegetarian, however.  Service was very slow and disorganized. (I could see my husband’s blood pressure rising by the minute).  Our appetizer came out after the noodle bowls, and I don’t think we would have gotten it at all if we didn’t remind the server.  We were missing a set of silverware and had to hunt one down ourselves.  No one came to freshen our ice teas or offer water.  As we ate we saw people leaving and more coming in and standing waiting to be seated.  Tables weren’t cleared as new orders were coming out and there was nowhere to put them or to seat the people who were waiting for a clean table — Did I mention that the service was SLOW?

Prices at Van’s are all under $10.00, and the food is good.  Convenient parking is available in the rear. I am hoping that this was not a typical lunchtime at Van’s, and that they were just having an off day.  I would love to go back to sample their bubble tea, but I know my husband won’t be going next time.  With some people you don’t get a second chance.

Franchia Vegan Cafe, 12 Park Ave. (between 34th & 35th St.) New York, NY 10016, (212) 213-1001.

Franchia is another healthy restaurant in the heart of Manhattan. They specialize in vegan Korean and Thai cuisine.  Bibimbap is a popular traditional Korean health staple consisting of rice (your choice white or brown) with various toppings including vegetarian “chicken” or “duck.”  A variety of Asian noodles and toppings are also available along with vegetarian sushi (all chicken, shrimp, crab meat, and tuna are vegetarian versions based on soy gluten and seaweed).

At Franchia I counted no fewer than 50 different hot and iced tea flavors.  They’re sure to have your favorite or a new favorite you haven’t tried yet!  You can linger over the Royal Tea Tray (26.95) or Prix Fixe lunch (26.95) or dinner (29.95) which includes everything from appetizers to dessert, or choose from one of the many lunch specials (12.95). The decor at Franchia is tranquil, modern, and upscale — a quiet haven in the middle of the bustling city.  You will love it!  The website is: http://www.franchia.com.

Madras Mahal Vegetarian Indian Restaurant, 104 Lexington Ave. (between 27th & 28th St.) New York, NY. (212) 684-4010

Having just returned from a delightful couple of days in New York City, I thought I’d share some great vegetarian restaurants we tried while there.  I know it’s always a challenge to eat healthy when traveling, so I appreciate it when someone can point me in the direction of a good vegetarian restaurant when I’m away from home.  Madras Mahal in Midtown Manhattan is one I can highly recommend.  The restaurant specializes several diverse Indian cuisines with options we don’t often have the opportunity to try in traditional Indian restaurants. They offer dishes from both southern and northern India (yes, there is a difference), and the restaurant is strictly kosher.  Actually, if you love Indian food this block of Lexington Ave has many establishments from which to choose if you’re feeling adventurous.  We found the food to be delicious, prices moderate for the city, staff attentive and courteous — everything clean and efficient.  Judging by the number of happy patrons at Madras Mahal we weren’t the only ones who felt this way. To learn more you can visit their website: http://www.madrasmahal.com.

Austin’s Restaurant, 1101 Snyder Rd., West Lawn, PA 19609, 610-678-5500

Austin’s is an upscale American restaurant suitable for family dining, date night, or business lunches.  The decor is classic and clean on two levels with brick appointments and an open view of the kitchen.  The food may be a couple of dollars on the high side of average, but they do use the freshest of ingredients and everything is made to order.  Their servers work as a team, which keeps things moving smoothly and efficiently.  There are several vegetarian options on the menu, and there is even a gluten-free menu available if you ask your server.  Austin’s will gladly substitute brown rice or gluten-free pasta for any pasta for only $1.00.

On the night we visited I ordered the Vegetable Platter ($12.99).  It included steamed broccoli, zucchini, yellow squash and snow peas served with Austin’s own homemade Chipotle Black Beans and brown rice with two slices of garlic toast.  Everything was delicious, and the portions were more than generous.

My husband ordered the Vegetarian Pasta ($14.99): vegetables stir-fried with oil, garlic, and spices tossed with linguine, Parmesan cheese, diced tomatoes and toasted bread crumbs.  A large side salad was included in the price.  We both had hot tea to drink (free and prompt refills).

Austin’s has a variety of desserts on their menu (if you have any room left), and they also feature a Kid’s Menu for their younger clients,  and Daily Lunch Specials.  They open everyday at 11:00 am for lunch and dinner.  Reservations are not required, but we have found that it is wise to call ahead and get on the list before arriving.

I would recommend Austin’s for any occasion when you want to go somewhere a little upscale.  It is conveniently located on the corner of Snyder and Van Reed Rd. just across from that big church on the corner (Glad Tidings). You will be pleased with the appearance, location, food, service, and atmosphere at this classic restaurant.  I can’t think of a thing they could do to improve.

To see their complete menu and learn more: http://www.austinsrestaurant.com.

China King Chinese Restaurant: 840 North Park Rd. Wyomissing, PA 19610 (Park Plaza)

China King is a small casual restaurant located in a little strip mall off N. Park Road.  It is a great place to get delicious Chinese food fast. They offer several vegetarian dishes, including our favorite, General Tso’s “Chicken.” Food can be prepared with no MSG (you won’t miss it), brown rice is available on request, and any dish followed by (D) can be made as a low calorie, low cholesterol dish with absolutely no oil, salt or sugar — who says eating out will ruin your diet!

I consider China King to be an excellent value.  The first time we ate in their tiny diningroom we ordered an entrée for each of us — big mistake!  Two of us could barely finish one entrée, the servings were THAT BIG!  Now we order one entrée and share it.  That is plenty and with spring rolls and tea we leave completely satisfied with no boxes of leftovers to carry.  Our total bill is usually around $12.00 for two people, a price that is hard to beat anywhere.

China King offers take out and delivery service ($10.00 minimum for delivery) if you’d rather eat at home or the office.  Everyday they have a lunch buffet for only $5.45/ person which includes free water or soda, but I am sorry to say that there are no vegetarian entrees on the lunch buffet.  (Maybe if enough people request it, they will change that!) Visa, MasterCard, and Diners Club cards are accepted, BYOB. Friendly, fast service, generous portions, low prices = highly recommend!

PHONE: 610-373-5851, 610-373-8805

FAX: 610-373-8803

Tulsi, Fine Indian Cuisine Restaurant and Lounge, 2101 Columbia Ave. Lancaster, PA 17603, phone: 717-509-7771, www.tulsicuisine.com

Tulsi Indian Restaurant, under new management within the last 6 weeks, is well worth the 35 – 40 minute drive from Reading.  It is located in the Travel Lodge Motel, but don’t be deceived by the outward appearance.  Inside you will find a lovely candlelit diningroom with cloth tablecloths and napkins and uniformed waiters who could not be more attentive without being intrusive — very friendly and accommodating.

We were happy to find many vegetarian options on the menu at Tulsi.  On a Wednesday evening we ordered from the “specials,”  and for only $11.95 per person we each got one appetizer, one entree, rice, and naan (Indian bread).  Beverage was extra, but free refills on the tea.  For appetizers I ordered the Vegetable Samosas (crisp pastries stuffed with potatoes and spices) and my husband had the Vegetable Pakoras (assorted vegetable fritters). These appetizers were served with a crisp unleavened bread (I think the waiter called it “Roti”) and an assortment of three sauces (sweet, tangy, and hot).

For entrees I chose the Malai Kofta (vegetarian alternative to meatballs in a rich tomato/onion gravy with light raisins).  I asked for “not spicy,” and it wasn’t —  at first.  It wasn’t until the third bite that I noticed the slow burn — not too hot, but I did have to rely on frequent bites of warm naan to cool off. The occasional raisin was a wonderful accompaniment to the heat and flavors of this dish, which I thought was delicious.  The chef made Aloo Mutter for my husband’s special request at a 6 out of 10 on the hotness scale.  He was smokin’, but he likes it that hot so he was very happy.

I would highly recommend Tulsi;  for the flavor, price, and atmosphere I don’t think you can beat this restaurant.  The portions are very generous.  I wish we had left room to try one of their desserts, but the entrees were so tasty that we just couldn’t stop eating until we had finished them completely.

Tulsi is open everyday for lunch and dinner, and have a daily lunch buffet.  They also offer take-out, delivery, and catering.  My only criticism is that they don’t have a very big parking lot.  That wasn’t a problem on a Wednesday night, but I could see it making parking difficult on weekends. If you like Indian cuisine then try Tulsi — I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Sacred Grounds Grille and Cafe, 1110 Snyder Rd., Reading, PA 19609 Phone: 610-678-0266, www.gtaog.org

I have been meaning to write about Sacred Grounds Grille and Cafe for a few months, and apologize for not sharing information about this little gem of a restaurant before now.  This casual modern eatery is located at Glad Tidings Assembly of God Church in West Lawn, PA, and is open to the public.  The hours of operation are (a little unusual): Tues. – Thurs. 10 a.m. – 2 p.m., Wed. 5 p.m. – 9 p.m., and Sunday 8 a.m. – 1:30 p.m..  The entrance to the restaurant is the main entrance to The Worship Center toward the rear of the church on Snyder Rd.  (Enter The Worship Center and turn right in the lobby).

Don’t think that this is just card tables and folding chairs in a spare room of the church.  This is a full service restaurant with commercial kitchen and competent staff.  The atmosphere is light and airy with modern furnishings and one entire wall of huge glass windows.  In nice weather you even have the option of dining outside on the patio.

The very reasonable and creative menu includes salads, soups, cold and hot sandwiches, wraps, pizza, and sides– plenty of vegetarian options! I’ve eaten at Sacred Grounds several times, and my favorite menu item is the Strawberry Spinach Salad.  For only $6.25 you will not find a larger or tastier salad anywhere, and they are not stingy with the strawberries and walnuts.  You can get the poppyseed vinaigrette on top or on the side — all served on real china dishes with stainless steel utensils (not plastic).  This salad is definitely a meal 🙂  Yummy!  Hot and cold drinks and desserts  are available just a few steps away at the Cafe.  Note: a portion of the profits from the sale of their fair trade coffee goes to support foreign missions.

This restaurant is open to the public, and even has free WiFi.  For a casual lunch with friends or a quiet business meeting, Sacred Grounds is unique in the area for its clean, healthy, modern, wholesome  environment and delicious food at reasonable prices.  Very classy, Sacred Grounds is a place you will be proud to take guests to; and while you’re there discover what’s going on at “that big church on the corner.” Highly recommended!