A folded restaurant has reincarnated itself into something beautiful and unique, a culinary butterfly called: Blossom Vegetarian.
Peer into the kitchen and you'll spy the mossy-brown hatted Hue Phan, devoted Buddhist nun, architect of an exquisite meatless dining experience. Ms. Phan was revered at Seattle's Moonlight Cafe... Now Renton is home of one the Northwest's most exquisite vegan restaurants.
Zen-like atmosphere, intricate, yet simple food. I've eaten at both chef Phan's restaurants. Here you have tranquil atmosphere, plus unique dishes,
As a former vegetarian, I've bantered with my chef-husband about the merits of 'faux-meat.’ "Come on!" he grumped after eating plastic-textured slices of fake Canadian bacon on breakfast sandwiches I used to make. "Either you eat meat, or you don't."
But sometimes, not eating meat is a benevolent, gourmet art. Blossom proves it.
Chef Phan elevates meatless proteins and broths, infusing levels of umami beyond slow-simmered beef bones, building an autumn forest floor of mushroom flavors within each soup bowl. FIRST know that everything is vegetarian, made of mock seafood and meat, even if you're ordering something called Sauteed Spicy Lemongrass Chicken ($9) or Sesame Beef ($9). Also know that everything is delicious.
Take Spicy Green Mussels, Chem Chep Chien Don Cay ($8) — the first imaginative dish I dared us to try, while my husband raised an eyebrow. A jewel of a starter. Mock mussel meat is fried and then ensconced in a strip of nori, forming a visually inspiring dish. You might even mistake the "mussels" for eggplant slices... The dish is balanced with a colorful centerpiece of steamed broccoli crowns, carrot loops, snow-white daikon arches, and slices of fresh fruit. It’s a simple, yet complicated story — in other words, a koan on a plate.
We were quite honestly taken aback.
And please take your server's suggestion to order some tea. Eventually, there will be a liquor license, but the tea selection is so exciting you may choose to abstain. I floated after tasting the masterful house blend, Heaven Sent ($4). Dried apple pieces, hibiscus, rosehip, dried orange and Calendula petals flavor this poetic cup. This is the first time I've ever been offered to get my remaining tea packed to go. It seemed silly, but it was so good I said yes, and thank you.
Soups are broken into two categories: noodle soups and soups (to be shared). From the noodle soup category we ordered Bun Bo Hue, or Hue Spicy Beef Noodle Soup ($10), a sweat-inducing bowl of sliced "beef", rich broth, rice noodles, and fried tofu that is deliciously reminiscent of crackly chicken skin. Alongside comes a plate of shredded fresh cabbage, mint, lime, and bean sprouts. Electrifying.
Our other soup was the yin to the yang. Canh Bi Do Hat Sen or Pumpkin & Lotus Seed Soup ($10) is the gentle embodiment of autumn. It brings notions of a placid fall pond, reflecting bright leaves on its surface. Silken tofu blocks quiver in your mouth like no tofu I've had before, chopsticks lift blocks of sweet and earthy pumpkin to your lips. Then the surprise of a floating lotus seed in my spoon, tasting of a waxy exotic macadamia nut, plus a wave of enoki mushroom threads.
Decisions were hard on the Entrees portion of the menu. Where else can you get Tom Cang Kho Tau, or Caramelized Fresh Water Prawns ($11). This is a bit of kitchen magic. Rolled bean curd skins and silken tofu are rolled and bathed in a tomato sauce. "It's sweet," I said petulantly, turning to the next dish. "Try it again," insisted my husband.
But my eyes were fixed on Bao Ngu Xao Rau Que, Sauteed Basil Abalone ($12). Granted, I've never had real abalone, but the mock version with 'Vietnamese ham' and basil captured my imagination. Accompanied with glossy black mushroom caps, julienned red peppers, and copious basil leaves, chef Phan's stir fry is a subtle, yet savory plate of texture.
I would be remiss in not pointing out one of our first & favorite dishes, Goi Sura Tom Thit, Blossom Special Salad ($10). Imagine vegetarian jellyfish (clear & playful), tofu, "shrimp", daikon, cilantro, julienned carrots, roasted peanuts, sliced cucumber, lime vinaigrette and taro crackers for scooping.
Which just goes to show: It's hard to go wrong here, as long as you keep an open mind and heart.
Hours: Mon-Thurs: 4 - 10p.m.; Fri-Sun: 11a.m. - 10p.m.
Address: 305 Burnett Ave. S., Renton, WA 98057