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October 2006
Vietnamese Vegetarian: Faux Real, Pho Sure
Restaurant Review by Maureen C. Wyse

 

Love authentic Vietnamese food? Those vermicelli noodles, clear broth, sprouts, spring rolls and tofu. But hate knowing that something seemingly vegetarian usually has fish or beef hiding in the sauce or broth? Well now you can have your Pho and eat it sans the animals, thanks to Lan Café: Vietnamese Vegetarian.

Planted inconspicuously on sixth street between first and second avenues, known to New Yorkers as “Indian Row,” Lan Café in the land of curry dinner specials is something different. And ironically, it is the only all-vegetarian restaurant on the block. Recently opened in mid-July, Lan Café, a small family operation, is churning out uniquely tasty and freshly made Vietnamese goodness.

As one Satya staff member fondly recalls days in the Bay Area of California munching on vegan Vietnamese sandwiches and rice vermicelli dishes with fish-free nuac cham sauce, she now has no motivation to move back. Lan Café will satisfy anyone’s veggie Vietnamese cravings. Their offerings include a delicious and affordable variety of appetizers, soups, Vietnamese baguette sandwiches, noodles, entrees, soy fruit shakes and fresh squeezed juices. However, beyond the usual suspects, like the Pho Noodle Soup ($7.50)—a sweet variation of rice noodles, mock beef, basil and sprouts in a light vegetarian broth—I was most attracted to Lan Café’s delicious Vegetarian Shrimp Papaya Salad ($6.75). In a dressing of chili paste, cilantro and lime, topped with crushed peanuts, this spicy salad is simply not duplicated elsewhere and is a must-eat! While the Shrimp Salad may be a bit spicy for some, Lan Café also offers a delightful Avocado Salad, a fattoush-like combination of cucumbers, avocado, onion, tomato and savory, flavorful bits of soy ham all tossed in a light sweet vinaigrette ($6.75). In addition, before your meal, be sure to enjoy their perfect Spring Rolls ($4.50) and Vegetarian Summer Rolls ($5.50).

The real superstar of the menu, however, is the Curry Tofu and Potato Soup with hints of lemongrass ($7.50). This soup, served with your choice of freshly baked baguette or side of vermicelli noodles, is like no curry I have ever had before and completely floored me with the flavorful combination of spicy, sweet and delicious. Other recommended entrées are their simple Spring Rolls on Rice Vermicelli, an excellent mixture of crunchy spring rolls, noodles, veggies and tangy, flavorful sauce ($7.50), the Vietnamese Pan Cake ($8.25), Grilled Lemongrass Seitan on Rice Vermicelli ($7.50) and the Vegetarian Ham and Tofu entrée, sautéed with broccoli, mushrooms, tomatoes, carrots and onions will also wow your taste buds ($7.50).

Lan Café’s yummy, authentic, fresh, affordable and meatless Vietnamese fare is extremely rare, even in this veggie heaven city. Their homemade sauces continue to linger in my palate’s memory. The atmosphere is simple, brightly lit, with close-quartered, limited seating, but supporting the friendly family who own and operate Lan Café is worth the visit. In questioning the origins and ingredients of their fantastic sauces we were met with the reply, “my mother makes it,” with a gesture toward the kitchen and an older woman smiling and waving back at us. So try something deliciously different for your next meal—go for the faux pho!

Lan Café: Vietnamese Vegetarian, 342 E. 6th Street, between 1st and 2nd Avenues, Manhattan. Open every day, 11am-10pm. Take out and delivery available. Information: (212) 228-8325.

 


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