Special Sauce

Man cannot survive on salads alone -- even if he's a vegetarian. What that man wants is a balanced meatless meal that fulfills basic nutritional needs and gratifies a few corporeal desires in the process. The fried tofu with curry and coconut sauce ($6.95) at Van Loc Restaurant (3010 Milam, 713-528-6441) fills the bill. Honey-brown pillows of firm, protein-laced tofu and soft tendrils of rice noodles are combined with straw mushrooms, crisp celery, sliced onions and chopped peanuts in a mild but savory curry coconut sauce. This is an earthly ambrosia, the kind of velvet-smooth sauce that will forever give gravy a bad name. An accompanying bowl of the obligatory rice is an afterthought, but you'll need it to soak up any of the sauce that the tofu and noodles leave behind. Stop pretending you're proficient with chopsticks; go ahead and spoon up the last drops.

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Gary Michaels