by Michael Oshman
tar anise powder, red chilies, honey, garlic and cauliflower were just some of the elements that melded together for my enjoyment in Phil's Indonesian Cauliflower soup at the Vegetarian Zone on Fifth Avenue. When I asked our waitress Lisa's which of the three soups I should choose, she said with the delight, "Phil always makes good soups." So I took the recommendation of Lisa's eyes and her excited description of the soup: "peanut butter, coconut milk, fresh ginger, celery..." My mouth was watering just dreaming of the soup to come.
My dining partner Amanda and I enjoyed the outside patio: flowers on the table and a ficus tree next to us. Murals adorn the walls, while fountains surrounded by flowers provided a visual treat. The ambiance and company were perfect.
Phil's soup was good, but my taste buds were expecting more of a kick. The ingredient descriptions and first taste stimulated my taste buds, but after first contact in my mouth, the soup's individual ingredients lost much of their identity. Then I tasted Amanda's dinner salad which blew my whole body into pure joy: sprouted lentils, roasted sunflower seeds, delicious creamy tangy miso-ginger dressing. The salad was alive! The lettuce, sprouted lentils and roasted seeds made my body sing and my eyes close. Next time, I will order a whole large salad and this is coming from someone who never orders salads for a main entrée.
I ordered the hearty lasagna and Amanda chose the fettuccine Special of the Day. Again, Amanda picked a winner. If you like lasagna, you will definitely enjoy it. But I was looking for a new taste, and I found it in the Fettucini Special with roasted eggplant. It melted in my mouth with a tangy, unique, powerful flavor.
For dessert, I picked a winner: coco cream parfait: graham cracker crust, creamy smooth with chocolate and cinnamon/vanilla mixed in. Accompanied with a vanilla tea, I relaxed and talked, and enjoyed the ambiance and satisfaction of completing a full meal with some real gems, without the heavy feeling of not being able to move.
The Vegetarian Zone, formerly named Kung Food, has been open for 21 years. A member of the Green Restaurant Association for 4 years and the winner of the Fall 1994 Environmental Leadership Award, the Vegetarian Zone uses no styrofoam, reaps energy from 16 solar panels atop its roof, uses many 100 percent post-consumer waste recycled, non-bleached materials, and recycles its cardboard, metals, glass and plastics. They are currently investigating the use of 100 percent post consumer waste, non-bleached recycled cardboard for take-out and leftover packages (not to mention plastics made from corn coming soon). Soy cheese and soy milk are options, and 30 to 40 percent of the menu is completely eggless and dairyless.
The Vegetarian Zone is a nice place for business meetings, a date, or an evening with your friends. It mixes an elegant down-to-earth ambiance with an obviously sincere desire to provide healthy food for vegetarians and carnivores alike.
Some popular dishes include the spinach mushroom lasagna, Greek spinach pie, curried vegetables, roasted vegetable sandwich and the mock chicken garden salad.
The Vegetarian Zone is open Mon.-Thurs. 11:30-9pm, Friday 11:30-10pm, Sat. 8:30-10pm, Sunday 8:3-9pm. It is located at 2949 5th Ave, near the West side of Balboa Park. Phone 298-7302. Lunch Entrees (usually with a soup or salad) range from $4.25 to $7.95, and dinner entrées (usually with a roll and a vegetable side plate) range from $4.35 to $9.95.
Michael Oshman is president of the Green Restaurant Association, 287-4261. To find the Green Restaurants near you, call the Green Restaurant Referral Service at 490-9695 ext 2.