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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
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
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
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