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The Vegetarian Gourmet

By Steven R. L. Millman

Welcome back from break friends and neighbors! The Vegetarian Gourmet had a good break including a trip to Aspen and the Restaurant at the Little Nell, one of the fourteen best restaurant/hotels in the United States and winner of the Wine Spectator Grand Award for excellence.

Now don't even think about drinking if you're underage, in fact (in keeping with the new alcohol policy), don't even read to the end of this paragraph. I mean it youngsters! For those more mature readers still following, I shared a demi of 1983 Fonseca Vintage Port. Astoundingly mellow, with raspberry and plum tones and a finish that melts you. Served alongside a simple chocolate cake and vanilla bean ice cream, I thought I'd just have to move in.

Mary Chung Restaurant

494 Mass Ave.

864-1991

Sun., Mon., Wed., Thurs. 11:30 AM - 10:00 p.m.

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

Dim Sum Menu: Sat-Sun 11:30 AM - 2:30 PM

Closed Tuesday

Vegetarian Dinner Entrees Priced $5.50-$6.95

Credit Cards not accepted

This week the Vegetarian Gourmet reviews Mary Chung Restaurant. As is so often the case with Chinese restaurants, a boring or shabby appearance stands in stark contrast to the glorious food served within! A nondescript storefront opens into a clean but drab restaurant featuring little other than a mirror on one wall in the predictable attempt to make a small place look larger. The tables are clothed in the standard reds one is used to seeing in Asian restaurants and the booth seats have more tears than the backseat of your parents old wood paneled station wagon. Except for the actual Chinese music (not piped in 70's techno-pop as is so often the case) the overall impression is that you've walked into the Chinese equivalent of any greasy spoon in middle America. The bathrooms certainly won't dismiss this sensation.

Menu selection took quite some time with nearly thirty vegetarian entrees to select from (some need meat excluded). The appetizer menu was more disappointing with only two meatless selections. We started with the vegetarian spring rolls which were a full six or seven inches long and perfectly cooked, although perhaps a bit too oily. The filling was satisfying, but not extremely flavorful, and was overpowered rather than accented by the accompanying duck sauce.

The entrees were an absolute delight. After much soul searching, we ordered two of the house specials, Yu Hsiang tofu and Ma Paw tofu (without pork), along with the vegetable lo mein and bean curd with peapods. The Yu Hsiang tofu was practically a religious experience in bean curd. Fried soft tofu, scallions, water chestnuts and a bit of seaweed in a brilliant gently sweet and genuinely, but not overpoweringly spicy sauce. If Larry's Chinese Restaurant was Yu Hsiang at its worst ["Vegetarian Gourmet", Dec. 5, 1997], Mary Chung is Yu Hsiang at its best. The Ma Paw tofu is a spice lover's fantasy. Soft tofu set simply in a red hot chili sauce with pepper. Eaten with rice, it makes an elegant dish. The vegetable lo mein was mostly lo mein and very little vegetable aside from the stray mushroom and carrot. Fine, but on the oily side, it was a disappointment compared to the quality of the rest of the meal.

If you're looking for good Chinese at a reasonable price, Mary Chung can't be beat in Central Square and stands up admirably in Boston at large. It's no small wonder then that Mary Chung has gained a wide and devoted following. My fortune at the end, written by a great Vulcan-Chinese philosopher read, "You love Chinese food. Live long and prosper." Easy to do at Mary Chung's. Highly recommended!

Next week: The Royal East (and then no more Chinese for a while, I promise!)