Flavorful and satisfying lettuce wraps
6171 Mission Gorge Road, San Diego
I’m a meat-eater, but I don’t eat meat all the time and I love Thai food. So when I learned of Purple Mint Vegetarian Bistro, I was ready to check it out. David and I went in for lunch and were pleased that this strip-mall restaurant had a comfortable open interior with a stylish, rustic Thai vibe.
Inside Purple Mint
Egg Noodle Soup
Lemon Grass “Chicken”
Thai Iced Tea, complete with boba
As with many vegetarian restaurants, all the mock meat items were listed with the protein mocked in quotation marks. For example, we began with the Peking “Duck” Lettuce Wraps ($9.95) with what was described as “minced soy proteins,” shiitake mushrooms, and water chestnuts. It was an excellent way to begin, because those things are delicious — all the flavor of P.F. Chang’s lettuce wraps with none of the concern I sometimes have for ending up with a chewy bit of gristle. Along with the iceberg lettuce cups were stalks of basil and mint, which went great with the diced, umami-flavored filling and the tangy sauce.
After a start like that, the entrée was a disappointment. I ordered the Braised “Duck” with Egg Noodle Soup ($8.95). The brick of mock duck had the texture of plastic and didn’t taste much better. The moment I bit down I realized that when it comes to vegetarian food, it’s best for me to stick with tofu. I like tofu, and I really don’t like the chewy, tasteless mess that is most mock meat. So, lesson learned.
The other half of this dish (the only half I picked at, because the “duck” was downright inedible) was a noodle soup with baby bok choy and shiitake mushrooms in what was advertised as a “savory broth.” I found the broth to be bland, with a hint of anise.
We had more luck with David’s dish, the Lemon Grass “Chicken” ($9.95). The lemon grass, garlic, and chili flakes were detectable and well balanced so that it wasn’t too bright or too spicy and with the grilled onions it packed plenty of flavor punch. And these “meatless strips” of soy protein were more tender and toothsome. Next time I’m ordering this entrée or one of the many other options with tofu instead of overly processed soy.
We didn’t need dessert, because I’d ordered the Thai Iced Tea ($3.75), which turned out to be huge and plenty sweet, filled with boba (chewy tapioca balls).
The poor choice of mock meat aside, between the lettuce wraps and that lemon “chicken,” the flavors came together to form a great reminder that you don’t have to be a vegetarian to enjoy the fare at a vegetarian restaurant.