Those who have tried will probably understand how difficult it can be to mobilize a group of omnivores for a night out of vegetarian or vegan-friendly chow. Places like Bodhi Tree Café in Huntington Beach make the task of organizing a meat-free excursion slightly less daunting by offering an array of hearty 100-percent vegan dishes complete with soy-based proteins made especially to mimic the taste, texture, and look of real deal. But despite Bodhi Tree's currently stellar rating on Yelp.com, ordering from the menu can still be a less than fail-safe process.
First warning: if you're a snob of Vietnamese cuisine, keep in mind that this place is an Asian restaurant sitting only a quarter mile up Huntington Beach's touristy Main Street. Don't set yourself up for disappointment with the expectation of receiving an authentic Vietnamese meal. The menu borders on fusion cuisine, incorporating dishes from other Southeast Asian countries such as Thailand. The recipes also cater more towards Western tastes by using much more salt and heavier seasonings, especially in sauces.
Second warning: portions are big. Standard entrees enable you to combine two proteins, but Chef Specials do not. Regardless, the "sharing is caring" strategy seems to be the best approach to ordering at Bodhi Tree. One appetizer, two Chef Specials, and a single dessert were enough to quell the hunger of my four-member family, so unless you're absolutely starving, do it family style. With that said, onto the meal.
Appetizer: Bò Bía Spring Rolls
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Coming in orders of two or four, bò bía spring rolls differ from traditional spring rolls by
forgoing glass noodles and incorporating lạp xưởng (Chinese sausage)
Chef Special: Sizzling Black Pepper Steak
Supposedly Bodhi Tree's signature dish, the Sizzling Black Pepper Steak is a combination of soy "beef," tofu, bell peppers, string beans, mushrooms, onions, and sliced carrots. True to its name, the dish comes out in a shallow clay pot, bubbling in a soy-based sauce. The protein gains points for possessing a disturbing resemblance to real slices of sautéed beef, but that's pretty much the extent of the novelty. The intense seasoning and liberal use of salt seem like an attempt to overcompensate for the fact that it just isn't meat. You can literally taste their fear that you'll catch on.
Chef Special: Larb
Oh, larb... you are one hot mess. In this dish, Thai-style minced meat dish comes sitting pretty on leaves of fresh lettuce arranged like flower petals. The core ingredients consist of ground soy protein, crushed peanuts, tomatoes, cucumbers, diced mint. An accent of chile sauce decorates the top to give the medley a slightly spicy kick. The leaves are used to envelop a helping of minced meat so that you can eat it with the convenience of a wrap. Though the larb may be pretty, it is once again the victim of salt overkill and drier than two-day-old taco meat. If you're looking to spend your $8.95 wisely, you might want to try something else.
Dessert: Banana Bread Pudding
The redeeming point of this unfortunate meal was the dessert. At $5.95, the Banana Bread Pudding is served warm with a generous dollop of whipped soy and sprinkle of sesame seeds on top. The crust is soft and there are fresh bananas baked into the dough which make for excellent texture and a surprisingly rich flavor. If bananas are your thing, then this dessert is definitely worth a shot.
Ultimately Bodhi Tree Café is a restaurant that means to create a cozy atmosphere in which vegans and non-vegans can feel welcome. It boasts an attractive interior design accented with exhibits of local art making it perfect for small get-togethers. The extensive menu offers a wide variety of options, but keep in mind that choice can also be a double edged sword. If it's possible, take recommendations from trusted friends. If not, good luck and be wary of the larb.