Story by Carmela Lim
Examiner Staff

For those of you trying to stick to your New Year’s resolution of eating healthy, the Vegetarian Bistro is for you. Located at 688 King St. in the International District, the name of the restaurant itself makes it an obvious choice for healthy eating.

One of the newest restaurants in the ID, Vegetarian Bistro opened on Dec. 25, 2005. Meat-lovers are welcome to try the menu out, as owner Macky Wong already had you in mind right from the start.

The concept of Vegetarian Bistro began three to four months ago as a necessity for Hong Kong native Wong, who is a vegetarian herself. Adopting the vegetarian lifestyle was part of her Buddhist beliefs, which requires its adherents to practice the vegetarian lifestyle at least for one month per year.

Eventually, Wong decided to follow the vegetarian diet for life. However, she lamented the rarity of vegetarian restaurants in Seattle and missed the variety of vegetarian foods that were available in China. She longed for vegetarian food that was not greasy or cooked with too much oil.

Wong says that there is a growing interest in vegetarianism, especially within her circle of friends. This awareness boosted her confidence to start up her own all-around vegetarian restaurant. With a pinch of restaurant management experience and a whole lot of drive, Vegetarian Bistro was born.

It’s amazing that Wong put everything together within a three to four month period. Everything about the restaurant — from the décor, the music and the menu — indicates that the planning would have taken at least a six-month or longer process.

When you enter Vegetarian Bistro, the ambiance feels like a nirvana. The traditional Chinese music puts a customer right at ease, although it may not be heard on busy days due to the rectangular main dining area. The space is perfect for groups of four, and the tables are each separated by plant dividers that hold cactus on each one. Chinese-inspired paintings hang on its light green walls, immediately setting a happy mood. Light green and pink colors exude from the wall to the wares and tea sets, which Wong purchased in China. The courteous and friendly waiters are nicely dressed in traditional Chinese costume, which is something you don’t see as often in Seattle’s Chinese restaurants.

It even gets better with the menu and food. Colorful cartoon illustrations decorate the menu. Most of the vegetarian dishes are from Asian cuisine. The menu may need a little bit of description for people who are not familiar with vegetarian food. This may particularly be useful since Wong is proud to serve new items that either she or her creative chef made. One of them is the first dish I tried, which was an in-house specialty made up tofu, beans and mushroom swimming in a sauce made of tea. The presentation was exceptional. A glass turned upside down was filled with the sauce. It was very creative. And so was their deep-fried mashed potato, shaped like a pear. Wong says that they use vegetable oil for foods that require frying. But even if the mashed potato was deep fried, it wasn’t as greasy like most fried foods are. If dipped with soy sauce, the fried mashed potato comes to life. I also had some of the spicy vegetarian egg rolls. The flavor was so rich that each of my taste buds felt the zing of the egg roll. It couldn’t get any better for a meat-lover like me.

Then I had the chance to taste what Vegetarian Bistro mostly prides itself in – vegetarian dim sum. The filling is purely vegetarian, the only difference from dim sum at other restaurants is that the items are made from imitation meat composed of pure vegetarian material. I tried the shrimp dim sum made from gelatin, and it tastes very close to the real one.

My personal favorite of the menu is the General Tso’s made of tofu. It tastes exactly like the real thing. Even the texture of the tofu resembles the real chicken. It’s something about the sauce that covers the tofu flavor, but even if you could taste the tofu flavor, it was just so good. It filled me up the most because I had too much of it. From the flavor of the food, to the presentation, it makes the price very well worth it.

Macky Wong sees to it that her menu offers a little bit of what other regular restaurants have, only vegetarian. She realizes that the difficulty is that most people assume that just because the food is vegetarian, the food will be bland and flavorless. Some people just don’t like vegetables at all. She wants to change the minds of those people, especially meat-lovers, that vegetarian food is delicious. “With Vegetarian Bistro, I want people to forget that what they’re eating is vegetarian and just focus on what the food tastes,” says Wong. She also explains that with the rising heart problems caused by cholesterol, there is a great reason for people to start eating healthy, but it doesn’t have to be at the expense of a satisfied palette.

With a menu that is healthy and appeals to anybody’s palate, relaxing sounds that calms a visitor, great service, and an aesthetically pleasing space, Vegetarian Bistro will make you do well this year – and maybe even well beyond that.

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