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This article by Kathleen McGinn Spring was prepared for the June 25, 2003 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Out to Lunch: Sunflower House

A young couple settled into a window table at Sunflower

House on a recent Wednesday at lunchtime and perused the menu their

waiter brought over within seconds of their arrival.

"I’m sorry," the young man said after conferring with his

companion. "We didn’t realize this was a vegetarian restaurant."

With that, the pair gathered up their umbrellas, abandoned their freshly-poured

glasses of water, and headed for the door, trailing their polite horror

at finding no meat to eat behind them.

It is a shame they didn’t stay. Sunflower House, which just opened

in the Princeton Shopping Center, is a fine place to enjoy a quiet

meal. What’s more, it is a good bet that the carnivores would not

even have known they were having a meatless meal. The veggie chicken,

beef, and pork on the menu taste as if they just came out of the butcher’s

shop.

Within five minutes of the young couple’s departure, a much older

— but far more adventuresome — couple took their places.

"What’s edamame?" the gentleman asked his companion, as he

read the list of specials. She wasn’t exactly sure, but reminded him

that he had had it before. (For the record, edamame, a green soy bean

harvested at the peak of ripeness, has been enjoyed in Asian cultures

as a snack, vegetable, and sweet.)

Meanwhile, another party of clearly knowledgeable foodies could be

overhead chatting about a recent lecture on the history of French

cookbooks,a wine tasting featuring several "quite good French

wines," the merits of various cheeses, and an upcoming trip to

Asia. They gave dish after dish high marks, comparing Sunflower House’s

lunch favorably with meals recently eaten in China.

The Asian influence is significant at Sunflower House, with offerings

that include lemon chicken, General Tso’s chicken, pepper steak, crispy

stuffed tofu, and Hunan veggie shredded pork. Dishes like vegetable

tempura add touches of Japanese cuisine. Catering to all-American

tastes, there is also a sandwich selection.

Service is swift, friendly, and informed. Luncheon specials —

all under $7 — are listed on a blackboard as well as on tables.

Served with brown rice and a house salad, the specials include sweet

and sour meat (veggie pork, carrots, pineapple, and green pepper with

sweet and sour sauce), kung bao chicken (wheat gluten, carrots, mushrooms,

and baby corn with hot sauce), and stuffed eggplant cake (Chinese

eggplant with hot sauce).

Choosing Hawaiian fried rice ($6.75) from the main menu, I am quickly

presented with a large portion, molded to the size of half a soccer

ball. It is topped with the most marvelous veggie sausage, garnished

with chopped green and red peppers, and liberally laced with chunks

of pineapple. The manager explains that it is made of a mix of wheat

gluten and soy protein. All I know is it’s delicious.

A true carnivore would be hard-pressed to detect the veggie sausage

as anything but sausage, even down to the little white spots of "fat."

Perhaps this is an attempt to help ease the veggie-phobic, like the

young couple who fled the place, into the world of meat-free cuisine.

Never a fan of mixing vegetables into desserts, I nevertheless opt

for the classic Asian red bean ice cream. Interestingly, it is purple,

rather than red. It is also delicious. The two-scoop serving is enough

for a small group to share.

Sunflower House is a fine place for a quick — or lingering —

inexpensive lunch. My waiter did not present the check until I had

folded up my newspaper. Groups are easily accommodated, and there

are enough quiet corners for those who do not want to listen in on

others’ conversations.

Open Monday to Saturday, Sunflower House serves lunch from 11:30 a.m.

through 2:30 p.m. and dinner from 5 p.m. until 9:30 p.m. Non-alcoholic

beer is offered on the menu, but for the real stuff, BYOB. Credit

cards are accepted.

Sunflower House could present a textbook marketing challenge —

vegans tend to be turned off by the need to dress vegetables up as

meat, and omnivores tend give to meatless places a wide berth —

but anyone who appreciates Asian cuisine will consider it a terrific

find. Its inviting, spacious dining room, quick service, and flavorful

meals make it a good lunch value.

— Kathleen McGinn Spring

Sunflower House, Princeton Shopping Center. 609-279-9888;

fax, 609-683-8989.


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