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November 2004: Sunflower Vegetarian Restaurant

A good vegetarian restaurant but not a place for nonvegetarians to celebrate.

Good Eating for Vegetarians in Vienna

Sunflower Vegetarian Restaurant says that many of its dishes look and taste like real meat, poultry, and seafood despite the absence of those ingredients. Also absent, in most cases, are dairy products and eggs.

Sunflower is a cheery place. The decor features sunflower photos. Toy bees hang from the ceiling. The staff, most of which hails from Taiwan, could not be friendlier or more efficient.

Compared with most vegetarian restaurants, Sunflower blossoms. It successfully handles tofu, wheat gluten, and other staples of vegetarian restaurants. In some dishes it matches the better vegetarian dishes in full-menu restaurants. Occasionally its imitations of nonvegetarian offerings are first-rate. That evaluation does not apply to desserts. The sampling of one baked dessert made without eggs, dairy products, and sugar was enough for a lifetime. No alcohol is served. There is excellent organic tea, iced tea, carrot juice, orange juice, nondairy milks, and several diet sodas.

The menu is big, listing scores of dishes and a glossary to assist the uninitiated. Entries mirror dishes that are primarily from China and Japan. Brown rice is the starch of choice. The best appetizers were the vegetarian moo shu rolls, the steamed or pan-fried dumplings (which contain mostly cabbage), and tofu topped with shiitake mushrooms and a fresh ginger sauce. One appetizer that did not work was the mock sesame eel. Soups are listed as made-to-order and are made with a vegetable broth. Of several tasted, the wonton soup—the wontons stuffed with spinach—was the best. A small house salad is served first. With fresh and crisp mixed greens and a tart vinegar-based dressing, it is excellent. Larger salads include avocado, grilled vegetables, and pear barley.

Among the best dishes was General Tso's Surprise, one of the imitation dishes that worked well. Also pleasing were the Golden Nugget, made with marinated bean-curd skin and shredded shiitake mushroom, bamboo shoots, and spicy dried tofu in a brown sauce; the sautéed Eggplant Medley with minced soy protein, baby corn, tomato, sun-dried tomatoes, mushrooms, and green bell peppers; Popeye's Favorite, a potato pie mixed with spinach and other vegetables in a black-pepper sauce; and an asparagus roll stuffed in baked wheat gluten and served with a choice of dairy or nondairy cheese.

Less appealing were the Curry Paradise, a mixed-vegetable curry with a Japanese curry sauce that lacked body or balance; the udon noodles in soup, which suffered from a sub-par broth; the wheat gluten with fermented black-bean sauce, which compared poorly to versions in Chinese restaurants; and the sushi—marinated tofu skin stuffed with brown rice that did not resemble sushi.

Sunflower Vegetarian Restaurant

2531 Chain Bridge Rd., Vienna; 703-319-3888. Open daily for lunch and dinner.

Atmosphere: Cheerful.

Food: Mostly pan-Asian, all vegetarian, with no eggs, rarely dairy, and only organic flavor enhancers.

Service: Good and friendly.

Price: Main courses are $7.50 to $11.

Value: Good.

Bottom line: A good vegetarian restaurant but not a place for nonvegetarians to celebrate.

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