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Jun 17, 2009 09:02 AM

Enjoy Vegetarian In Chinatown [San Francisco]

No, that's not a commentary, but rather the name of a restaurant that opened up in Chinatown a few weeks ago. It's at 839 Kearny, which since at least the mid-1990s had been the home of the anonymous Ming's Seafood Garden, which I recall was a non-Cantonese seafood restaurant. This is a second branch for Enjoy Vegetarian which has an existing location in the Sunset district, so it apparently enters Chinatown with credentials. They seem to be doing well at the new Chinatown location, with a sizable menu that includes numerous mock meat dishes. I had the vegetarian goose which was prepared as a hot dish, something I had only seen once before (I believe at Peking Duck in Palo Alto).

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  1. Would you have noticed whether it has much in the way of green leafy, fresh vegetable preps? Some of these places mostly specialize in over-processed mock meats, and I'd like to see something fresher.

    ETA: Answering my own question, here's the online menu.

    Enjoy Vegetarian Restaurant
    839 Kearny St, San Francisco, CA 94108

    1 Reply
    1. re: Melanie Wong

      No leafy greens. I got the $7.50 lunch special of "taro, gluten puffs and pumpkin" cooked in coconut sauce. Very bland, and too sweet (tasted like canned gluten puffs, which I always find too sweet). Served w/ a soup that was a broth with a few shreds of seaweed and tofu, and a vegetarian egg roll that I did not eat - it disintegrated in my left-over box. At least you get the option of brown rice.

      An adjoining table had a chow mein dish that looked pretty good though.

    2. Nice report, thanks for the heads up.

      Just a side rant that a major of Chinese Vegetarian restaurants, similar the ones in Southern Cal (like the Happy Family series of restaurants around the Monterey Park area), seem a bit too reliant on stir fry/deep fry, corn starch ladened, perhaps MSG. Hopefully this place is not like that.

      I like Lucky Creation on Washington, though I haven't been in ages. Extra credit for pretty decent wheat gluten (curry, soy sauce, and like a pseudo cha siu type flavoring), a sticky rice roll that looks like sushi, and of course vegan mooncakes that are actually very tasted and very very limited.

      I thought vegetarian goose was a very typical Shanghainese type dish, usually served hot. The one I had at Su Hong Palo Alto about 2 months ago had a rather thick brown gravy with it, along with some type of fava beans.

      1 Reply
      1. re: K K

        I've usually seen the vegetarian goose as a cold appetizer in Shanghai style restaurants.

      2. Just because a place spins off from another means nothing. Mcdonald's has "credentials" enough to serve billions and it sucks... just saying, just because a place opens a 2nd store means nothing.

        1 Reply
        1. re: jason carey

          Well at a minimum it means you have enough money to open the second branch, which means that the original location is at least commercially successful. Also rents in Chinatown are relatively high, which raises the financial starting bar even further. Now it is true commercial success is not necessarily equivalent to food worth talking about (e.g., House of Nanking). However, authentic Chinese restaurants (i.e., those targeting primarily Chinese diners) aren't successful unless the food is good (because we Chinese will not stand for food that isn't tasty), or to a lesser extent, if the food provides a good value (low price or large quantity). Consequently when it comes to real Chinese food, opening an additional location is definitely a potential indication that something's good.

        2. I started replying to another post about the best Cantonese vegetarian food in SF, and then found this thread, so felt this was the most appropriate place to post.

          If you're looking for good faux meat at a restaurant that is entirely Buddhist vegetarian (including no garlic or onions) -- give "Enjoy Vegetarian" on Kearny & Washington a shot.

          Ever since Lu Lai in Milpitas closed down, I've been on the hunt for good vegetarian Cantonese food. Sadly, every place I've visited fall far short of the mark. Places like Golden Era and Lucky Creation and half a dozen others have "same sauce syndrome" and the same stir fry vegetables (western broccoli and carrots, yuck!). I've had decent experiences at Loving Hut, but Enjoy is the first restaurant that does Chinese Veg authentically. Their flavors are authentically cantonese, and sauces are made without cutting corners.

          They have a myriad of vegetarian proteins & substitutes, ranging from the usual veggie ham & chicken, to much more exotic dishes. I've been several times now, and here are some of my favorites:

          - fatty roast pork (with fatty section made with yam flour) -- (muy choy kow yuk)
          - walnut prawns with (vegan?) mayonnaise -- (hup toe haa)
          - bitter melon beef, made with tofu skin instead of the crappy textured soy protein -- (see tsup foo qua ngow yuk)
          - salted fish chicken tofu clay pot -- with vegetarian tuna that is somewhat fishy from seaweed extract (hamn yuu guy lup do fu bo)
          - veggie abalone
          - lettuce cups (with veggie ham, mushroom, jicama, and others)

          The walnut prawns are my favorite. I was devastated when Lu Lai closed because their walnut prawns were so amazing. Enjoy Veg comes close, although their batter isn't quite as fluffy.

          They also have some other interesting vegetables that you will only see on upscale or health-minded Cantonese restaurants like sauteed yam leaves with "fu yu" sauce, which are delicious, like a slightly stronger flavored, crunchier spinach, and sauteed lily bulbs & ginkgo nuts. (I think the reviewer below who says "no leafy greens" needs to take another look at the menu.)

          1. The menu linked above is no longer in place. Here is the current one for dinner:

            At the Kirkham (Sunset) location, we had a decent meal. We ate, in categories we devised to help focus our usage of the menu:

            # 24 Small reishi medicine soup : The broth was strong and kind of bitter, and it contained a few different dried mushrooms and gluten. As a base, it was fine and I'm freezing the leftovers for cooking, but as a soup it's not something I found very appealing.

            Fatty pork
            # 44 sliced fatty pork w/ sweet mustard greens and napa cabbage : Trippy. It's sliced so that it mimics a piece of pork with a 3/4" square of fat attached. The "pork" is gluten, and the "fat" is yam flour according to the above post (I thought it was mung bean jelly). The mustard greens gave this dish some depth, but at times it felt like I was eating just another dish with "brown sauce." I think there might have been honey in this.

            "Fresh" fish
            # 47 walnut prawns w/ mayo sauce : The mayo had a nice tang, the walnuts had a great brittleness, and some sesame seeds rouded everything out. I've had better batter elsewhere, but we loved this dish. It's proof that the shrimp in the original dish isn't necessary for flavor and is more of a vehicle for the contrast of mayo, "fried," and walnuts. When the ocean gets depleted of anything living, this will be my soylent haven.

            Preserved/Salty fish
            # 82 salty fish, chicken, soft tofu clay pot : pieces of the "fish" had seaweed attached to them. I would have liked more depth to the base.

            # 59 pea sprouts with ginger : Answering Melanie's questions above, they were out of stir fried yam leaves, a choy, and ong choy. I've purchased a choy and ong choy recently, so their absence isn't a seasonal issue. We instead got the pea sprouts with bai ling mushroom (Pleurotus ferulae) on top for an additional $4. As a dish, it didn't make much sense--- the mushrooms aren't cut up much, so you have to nibble on them a piece at a time without any pea sprouts. I really liked the silky texture of the mushrooms and their savory flavor.

            # 109 Spinach and pine nut fried rice : this seemed to be a popular dish, but it doesn't have a lot of flavor despite the appearance. I would have preferred plain brown rice.

            As an omnivore and someone who is generally a sucker for bold flavors, this obviously isn't my kind of cuisine. That said, it would have been nice to see more seasonal preparations or ingredients different from the palate of American Chinese restaurants minus the MSG and alliums. There are a few other dishes I'd check out in the future--- the cordyceps Mushroom, Fresh Mt. Yam w/ Lily & Ginko Nuts sounds interesting and was something we meant to order.