Saturday, September 3, 2011

Yuan, for all things 'un' of the Oriental sort.

So, as you may or may not know, I have some weird fascination for vegetarian and vegan cuisine, despite being more carnivore than omnivore. So when my friend told me about Yuan, a restaurant that serves Asian vegetarian and vegan cuisine featuring imitation meat, I was immediately intrigued. I had never tried imitation meats before, other than the good ol' fake crab, and was curious as to whether they really tasted like meat or not. The verdict? Read on to find out. (TBC... Dun dun dun!)

Accessibility - Grade: A-
It's a 5-10 minute walk from either Sherbrooke metro or Berri-UQUAM, and it's located on St-Denis, so it's not like it's in the middle of nowhere.

Service - Grade: B
The service was pretty standard. The waiter who first took our order noticed that it was our first time, so he gave us a brief explanation of the menu, which was nice. Another plus was that our water glasses were never empty, and the service was quick. Otherwise, the waiters didn't interact with us much.

Food - Grade: C+ (if you're an omnivore) to B- (if you're vegetarian/vegan)
I'm a little on the fence about this restaurant. While the quality of the food isn't bad, they serve Americanized Chinese food, which I kind of, you know, loathe. I was, however, pretty impressed with the fact that their vegan dishes were still tasty despite the lack of meat. And then I realized that that was because everything was infused with MSG, probably. Eh. I do think that if you're vegan and like Americanized Chinese food and don't mind having a bit of MSG in your diet, you will probably like this restaurant. Anyway, enough with the disclaimer; onward to the dishes!

Duck salad
We decided to go for the tasting menu, which was AYCE for $20. We started off with a 'duck' salad. The salad itself was pretty typical, although I was pretty impressed with how fresh the lettuce was. Now, I was quite excited to try the un-duck, cuz I mean it's duck, but not really, you know? One bite in, and the first thing my brain registers is: 'tofu skin'. Guess you just can't fool a carnivore's brain.

What I think they did was fold layers of tofu skin together and compress it in order to get that stringy texture of meat, before slicing it and adding flavouring to it. You see, I was pretty impressed that they still managed to get that slightly game-y taste of duck meat and that they managed to make tofu so flavourful, but then I realized that I was probably tasting the MSG. I still liked the texture of the meat, though; it wasn't quite as chewy as real duck meat, but it's also miles away from eating regular tofu.

Salt and Pepper Shrimp

I was very impressed by the un-shrimp, which actually tasted like shrimp. I don't know what they made it of, but had the same chewy texture that shrimp has, but with less of the crunch. I was less enthralled with what they did to the shrimp in this case. They wrapped the shrimp in batter and fried it, before sprinkling it quite liberally with salt and, yes, MSG, and a little pepper, making this dish very salty.

We ordered another shrimp dish, but I'm pretty sure we ticked off 'coconut shrimp'. This dish did not have a shred of coconut in it, but it was still pretty! It's a pretty standard Americanized stir-fry dish, complete with the excessive abuse of cornstarch. But it contained a nice mix of vegetables, and it wasn't too heavy.

Pinapple Chicken
The number one proof that I don't eat Americanized Chinese food: I didn't know what pineapple chicken was. Or rather, when I read the words 'Pineapple Chicken', my brain did not immediately connect it to the funny reddish-pink dish that is sweet enough to be a dessert.

The dish itself was pretty standard. Sweet, slightly sour, with bits of pinapples and vegetables interspersed between pieces of battered and fried 'chicken'. The un-chicken was basically pieces of puffy tofu, which did not taste much like chicken to me, but was still a nice substitute.

Pumpkin Curry with fish balls
The pumpkin curry was quite good. The fish balls tasted like the real ones I have at hot pot and the pieces of pumpkin (which is really squash, but both are called 'pumpkin' in Chinese) were soft and sweet.

Pepper beef
Again, the dish itself was okay. What I really want to comment on is the beef. It looked like beef, in the sense that when I saw it, I had no doubt of what it was trying to imitate, and it had the same toughness as beef. However, it didn't have that meaty taste and was a little crumbly, almost as if it was imitating ground beef.

Vegetarian sushi

The restaurant also serves vegan and vegetarian sushi. Some of the sushi had a star next to them with a footnote saying that those rolls weren't vegan, but I'm not sure if they're vegetarian or not.

The rolls themselves weren't that impressive, since the seaweed was tough to chew through and the rice a bit bland. If, however, the salmon and the eel that we ate were vegetarian, I would have to say that I was pretty impressed with the texture and the taste of the fish. The eel in particular had that strong, smokey taste of real barbecued eel. On the other hand, if they were using real fish, then the fish didn't taste fresh and had a funny mushy texture.

Price - $$
The price for the AYCE menu is $20 before tax on Fridays and weekends, and $17 before tax and on other days. I took a look at their a la carte items, and they seem to be around $15 a plate before tax.

Final Grade: B-
My friend tells me that the quality of the food has gone downhill, and that the food used to be very good. I'll give her the benefit of the doubt. I really didn't find the food that impressive, but turning your typical Americanized Chinese dishes vegan and vegetarian was an interesting and healthy change. The restaurant also looks much cleaner and better-decorated than your run-of-the-mill Chinese restaurants. Like I said earlier, if you're into Americanized Chinese food and you are vegan or vegetarian, you should definitely go check it out.

Yuan on Urbanspoon
2115 Rue St-Denis, Montreal
(514) 848-0513


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