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The Vegetarian Gourmet

By Steven R. L Millman

Welcome to the first edition of the Vegetarian Gourmet. This weekly column will serve to provide restaurant reviews and the occasional recipe for the MIT community with special focus on vegetarians and those seeking simply to eat a more healthy diet. For those carnivores living quietly among us, and you know who you are, don't be afraid to read these reviews. Chances are that a restaurant which has fabulous vegetarian selections will do pretty well with the more gruesome fare. Restaurants are given a rating of zero to four stars as follows:

0 stars Not suitable for animals

H If you're really hungry and its really cheap, why not?

HH A good meal with a variety of vegetarian selections.

HHH Stands out in its class, great for vegetarians.

HHHH Give notice to the registrar, you'll never want to leave after

this meal!

With finals approaching, the Vegetarian Gourmet turns his attention to the one thing that is truly important as we enter crunch time: delivery Chinese! It's far too late to learn discipline now unless you're willing to answer one of those ads in the Phoenix. In any event, you've had two months to write that paper and I can't help those who can't help themselves. In order to get through those consecutive all-nighters, you'll need to have lots of energy and that means food delivered to your door. To help you through this hard time, the Vegetarian Gourmet has reviewed three of the most popular Chinese restaurants with free delivery to the MIT campus and environs: Larry's Chinese Restaurant, Mandarin Restaurant, and Pu Pu Hot Pot Chinese Restaurant. In order to make the comparisons below fair, each of the restaurants were called at about the same time with orders of the same size to the same address.

Larry's Chinese 1/2 H

302 Mass Ave.

492-3170 or 492-3179

Free delivery minimum: $10

Mon.-Thurs. 11:30 AM - 10:00 PM

Fri., Sat. 11:30 AM - 11:00 PM

Closed Sunday

Vegetarian Entrees Priced $4.75-$6.25

With a name like Larry's Chinese Restaurant, you might be expecting something less than an exquisite dining experience and that's exactly what Larry's provides. The order of vegetable lo mein and yu hsiang tofu arrived in just over the forty minutes promised, lukewarm, and leaking into the bottom of the bag.

Yu hsiang tofu at its best is crispy fried tofu and an assortment of crisp vegetables in a slightly sweet and reasonably spiced sauced garnished with scallions. Yu hsiang tofu at its worst is served at Larry's. The tofu, the kind that gives tofu a bad name, was cut into large triangles and served soft and spiceless, then laid limp over a bed of overcooked vegetables. The sauce that was not lost to depths of the delivery bag was bland, mild, and not even hinting at sweet. The vegetable lo mein was equally bland although hardly as painful as the yu hsiang. Not recommended.

Mandarin H1/2

334 Mass Ave.

497-1544

Free delivery minimum: $15

Daily, 11:30 AM - 10:00 PM

Vegetarian Entrees Priced $4.95-$7.50

Mandarin Restaurant has given me some good meals in the past. On the night when the Vegetarian Gourmet decided to review it, however, expectations were not met. The one and one-half star rating takes into account better days than this one. The vegetarian peking ravioli (potstickers to you and me), szechuan spicy tofu with peanuts, and vegetarian's delight arrived in an hour, well past the thirty to forty-five minute wait I had been told to prepare for, but still quite hot. Once again, there was a pool of sauce at the bottom of the delivery bag. Perhaps its just a pet peeve of mine, but is it really so hard to keep a meal together on its way to your door?

The peking ravioli was big and beautiful with perfectly cooked dough. The ravioli turned out to be a bit dull on the inside, but with the marvelously tasty and warmly spicy dipping sauce, I could scarcely complain. The szechuan spicy tofu with peanuts was reasonable although neither spicy nor particularly szechuan. The dish came with a nice assortment of vegetables including broccoli, scallion, water chestnuts, and red and green peppers, but all were a little soft from overcooking. The peanuts were clearly thrown in as an afterthought and not nearly as satisfying as the kung pao crowd might have wished.

The vegetarian's delight, on the other hand, was anything but a delight. Mixed vegetables and tofu in a white sauce in which everything was overcooked and tasting a little stale. Hardly worthwhile at the time, it was positively inedible the next day. And as every all-nighter knows, the next-day quality of Chinese food is a priority. Chocolate-coconut fortune cookies added a bit of interest to an otherwise uninteresting meal.

Pu Pu Hot Pot HH1/2

907 Main Street

491-6616 or 491-6636

Free delivery minimum: $10

Daily, 11:30 AM - 11:30 PM

Vegetarian Entrees Priced $4.50-$6.75

No personal checks

Weary of bad or lukewarm reviews? Worried that there's no hope in the land of delivery Chinese? Fear not, little campers, the Vegetarian Gourmet has good news! Pu Pu Hot Pot provides a variety of good, hot food at reasonable prices. They even managed to keep the sauce inside the containers. Hallelujah! The chinese vegetable wontons (pan-fried), spicy tofu with broccoli in garlic sauce and tofu with mixed vegetable, expected in thirty minutes, surprised me, piping hot at my door, a mere seventeen minutes from when I ordered!

The wontons were very tasty, although a little on the oily side. The dipping sauce was terribly mundane, tasting like a mix of soy sauce and a tiny bit of vinegar. If you have garlic and toasted sesame oil at home, add a little to the sauce. The spicy tofu with broccoli is a gem, slightly spicy, with fried tofu and crisp broccoli about evenly mixed. Absolutely delightful sauce, just a bit sweet, but not cloying.

The tofu with mixed vegetable was quite good, although not nearly so much as the spicy tofu with broccoli. A mixture of fried tofu with celery, carrots, broccoli, pea pods and bok choy is sure to please the hungry vegetarian. Word to the chef: the pea pods and bok choy take less time to cook and should be thrown in later as they were on the soft side. The sauce was a soy sauce base (perhaps with oyster sauce?) and very satisfying generally. The lack of any soy sauce or other condiments is annoying, but overall, a very good meal is to be had at the Pu Pu!

PS: Get a group going in on an order, there's 10 percent discount off every purchase over $100.