Haha, yes, a *vegetarian* restaurant!! Who would've thunk it? ;D
Two reviewers: ts and js
The Naam, I've read, is something like a Vancouver institution. As they claim, they are the first and oldest natural foods restaurant in Vancouver.
We decided to head out to Naam last Friday. I wasn't really craving for something vegetarian, but I wasn't really craving for anything else either. I wanted something simple, like a bowl of noodles or a plate of pasta or even a burger. Indian was suggested but I rejected it. I didn't want anything that would overload my taste buds. I figure a veggie burger was something I could down, so off we went.
Peeking inside the window, there were a few people standing in the little foyer area. There's also a small area between the outside door and the inside door and we were stuck there for about 5 minutes because the party of 3 in front of us did not want to go inside! I was confused: if they weren't going to go inside, how is the restaurant going to know that there are people waiting outside?
Finally, we tried to go inside and inform the restaurant that we were waiting for a table. But we, and the party in front of us, were shooed out, with a waiter telling us not to crowd the little foyer area. Fair enough, but I couldn't figure out why they wouldn't have a system to deal with the people lining up. Would a list be something too -- erm, I don't know, too imperialistic and capitalistic? Something against their whole system of values, with the paintings of Buddhas on the walls?
We arrived fairly early (6pm) and were quite surprised to find that there was already a lineup at the door. And yes, I don't know what the party of 3 in front of us was doing, all hesitant like that. Basically, they spent about 5 minutes discussing among themselves if they should go inside. Just turn the doorknob already!
As JS mentioned, when we finally got inside, the guy there asked us to step outside the door as there was no space in their foyer area. So we said that we just wanted to see if there was a list and the guy said no. But, it's a little weird that they would have no list. That would really make it simpler for all parties -- customers and restaurant -- involved. When they have a table ready, they would go through the line and keep asking if there was a party with that same number of people. This whole thing would be simpler with a LIST!
Anyway, to the food.
Looking at the menu, I was a little surprised at the format. That is, they have a "Mexican" section (a Tex-Mex one, really) and a burger section, then about 2 sections that are sort of "Asian." Basically, I thought that it seemed "all over the place". I guess I was expecting a menu that included vegetable/non-meat dishes that featured one or a few vegetables/ingredients and let them shine. Instead, their dishes were basically "vegetarian" versions of "regular" dishes, made vegetarian by using tofu or tempeh. But hey, what do I know! I mean, they are very successful, hehe.
(See the menu on their website.)
Surprisingly, their menu was a large menu, with a number of different categories, like Mexican or Asian. I had a little bit of trouble deciding what to have: I didn't want any of their Tex-Mex offerings and I'm very iffy about their Asian offerings. Finally, I decided on the Asian noodle bowl as it had a broth and I felt like a broth after waiting in that cold limbo region between the doors.
Quesadilla (served w salsa)
Oaxacan: red & yellow organic corn tortillas w chili, red onions, cilantro, jalapenos & cheese
We decided to share an appetizer. This was very good. The flavors were full and fairly multi-dimensional. I'm assuming that they made their own salsa; not bad. But yes, this dish was very good. This makes me think that their "Mexican" and Chili sections would be quite good.
Yes, the quesadilla was surprisingly tasty. I had no high hopes for this, as most quesadillas served in casual and/or chain restaurants are horrible. Usually, they would be packed with a lot of processed cheese and the whole thing would be a gooey, greasy mess. Although the Naam quesadillas packed a little bit too much cheese for my liking, they were countered by a very savoury black bean, beany filling, with notes of green peppers and onions. The salsa that came with it was also better than the jarred kind, with a little bit of smoke in it.
Naam Burger Platter
served w sesame fries, miso gravy & salad
I had the Naam Burger platter which had a number of components (see below).
The plate arrived and it was *HUGE*. Granted, we did get that quesadilla to share as well, with the waiter acting mighty surprised that we were ordering that as well as the mains.
Sesame Fries with Miso Gravy
[ts] Not bad. This is a signature dish of theirs. I didn't find it spectacular; just OK.
The sesame fries were mediocre. They were potato wedges of uneven sizes. They were also underseasoned and the inside of the potato wedges were too mushy for my liking. Nothing to write home about. The miso gravy was really not that spectacular as well.
lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, organic sprouts, beets, red & green cabbage, carrots, sunflower seeds + dressing
Poppy Seed Dressing
creamy sweet, with onions and apple cider vinegar, thickened w sesame tahini
The salad, despite the "normal" ingredients (haha), was not bad as well. It all worked together. The beets and carrots were shredded, and the two made a good combination with the dressing.
vegan patty with nuts, grains & organic tofu
served on whole wheat sesame bun, with tomatoes, cucumbers, organic sprouts
("mayo" & mustard)
No complaints about the bread. The patty was "OK", but my big complaint would be the texture. It was just too soft and mushy to act as a "burger patty." It's like eating a mashed vegetable patty between pieces of bread. It just didn't work for me. I really needed it to be much firmer. The burger was served with what looked like a "faux" mayo... I spread it on the patty, but I don't think it added any real flavor. I had to resort to putting some of the miso gravy on my burger for more oomph.
I ate about 2/3 of the burger and 2/3 of the salad. I was so full! I must say, though, I didn't really eat "messily", but the leftover plate wasn't the most attractive thing in the world.
Asian Noodle Soup
noodles, brean sprouts, broccoli, red peppers, shiitake mushrooms, deep fried tofu, grilled vegan tempeh strips; in a kombu shiitake broth
My noodle bowl had a lot of stuff in it. Broccoli: nicely done, still crisp-tender. Red peppers: still crisp. Bean sprouts: still crisp. Shiitakes: a lot of it. The kombu shiitake broth was a tad too sweet for my liking, but it had a very round flavour. Very umami and if it had tilted towards the more savoury side of the spectrum, it would have been delicious. The only complaint I had was the noodles. It came with rice noodles and I had hoped for egg noodles or ramen-type noodles, noodles with more of a bite to them. I felt the rice noodles did not really stand up to the other ingredients in the bowl, including the broth.
My rating: probably a 6 out of 10. This is a bit higher than I was expecting to have so I'm quite pleased with the outing. The veggie burger was very nice. I had one bite of it and it was surprisingly tasty.
P.S. I saw some people having desserts and the desserts look horrible.
I probably would not go to a vegetarian restaurant and order dessert. They might be alien to the whole dessert philosophy. Dessert is supposed to be decadent, while vegetarianism, at least their interpretation of it, seem to be utilitarian.
Beat-up tables and chairs, paintings of Buddhas on the wall, servers in grunge wear do not speak great desserts to me.
Although I don't think the Naam is averse to dairy products and eggs, the desserts still look like too much of a brown mess.
Their desserts were on display in a display cooler near the kitchen. They didn't look too appealing... although, I don't get attracted to desserts too easily.
All in all, a fairly nice experience. I don't think the food is anything I would crave, but I wouldn't object if it was suggested as a dinner spot. I would lean towards their Tex-Mex offerings. I guess about a 6/10 as well.
REVISED TO ADD:
Picking up from ts's comment up above with the menu, I think that is the problem with most vegetarian restaurants, in that they are looking to vegetables as substitutes for meat. You have the ubiquity of substituting tofu for beef in a teriyaki steak, for example. Or those things made of wheat gluten made to look like shrimp or some other kind of faux meat. (Personally, I find them objectionable.)
Oh, my noodle bowl came with tofu and tempeh strips. The tofu was okay, but I didn't care much for the tempeh strips. It had a weird, off-flavour about it.
I would love to see a vegetarian restaurant that cooks vegetables like vegetables, as something worthy of top billing on a plate. Granted, in a meat-eating world, that is a little hard to imagine, but not impossible. For now, I would settle for a vegetarian restaurant that takes great vegetable dishes from various cuisines and feature them on a menu. It might be hard to work that as a successful restaurant concept. . .but who knows?
Saturday, March 08, 2008