Chef Chat, Part 3: Happy and Mike Tsai of Pepper Tree Veggie Cuisine
Pepper Tree's popular $9.99 buffet is a main draw among lunchgoers. With both a raw food bar and a hot food bar, it's a vegan's paradise.
First arrived the hot, crisp veggie fritters (seen above) on a bed of carrots and shredded lettuce. These golden nuggets of vegetable goodness gave a satisfying crackle when bitten into, and the inside contents of cabbage and carrots and celery nearly melt in your mouth. A dip in the sweet and sour sauce lent a tangy heat to the fritter. It's as delicious as any unhealthy foodstuff fried, so you may as well be eating a veggie.
General Tso's vegan chicken
Pepper Tree's most popular item (and Chef Mike's favorite to make) is General Tso's Vegan Chicken, also available on the buffet. This is the combo platter, which comes with brown rice, a side of steamed broccoli and carrots, and an "eggless roll."
The tofu is no flavorless chunk of soy. Like the chicken it mimics, it's layered and succulent. Flaky, yet spongy, the tofu sops up the thick chili-spiced sauce. Brown rice is tender and delicious, not at all dry. And the vegan egg roll is decidedly an upgrade from the one whose grease bleeds through your Chinese carry-out paper bag. It's light and crisp, and when you take a bite, its innards don't look like soggy mish mash. Every veggie is clear and defined.
This is the only food I tried today not available on the lunch buffet, but they're worth an extra order. Veggies are generously stuffed into a sweet and doughy dumpling. The accompanying ginger sauce is superb - it's like a sweet and cinnamony soy sauce, with an Indian flair.
When I asked Happy what kind of vegetables were in it, she laughed and gestured to the buffet bar. "It's just all veggies," she said.
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