Unusual delights abound at vegetarian Taiwanese restaurant Su Shian Yuang
The Island of Taiwan is said to be shaped like a sweet potato, a pleasant analogy for all the vegetarian Buddhists who live there. If you squint, our own island of Montreal is shaped like a particularly gnarled sweet potato, and although we’re generally a meat-revelling town, a vegetarian Taiwanese might feel at home at Plateau restaurant Su Shian Yuang.
Open over a month, the low-key Su Shian Yuang is welcomingly graceful with a mural of blowing cherry blossoms on soft green walls. The hostess couldn’t be more gracious.
Lunch specials are generous, focusing on the likes of tofu, mushrooms, different sorts of noodles, coming with bright stir-fried veggies and spring roll or a reassuringly clear-toned hot-and-sour soup.
The drinks are intriguing. Black bean matcha? Oat and Job’s tear cereal? The Hakka pestle cereal drink is a glutinous mix of ground legumes and grains, and was comfort-food porridgey, smoky and sweet.
We splurged on extra appetizers, noteworthy crunchy-coated mashed taro balls and a pleasant and squishy deep-fried roll of tofu skin.
My pal’s smoky soybean slices with rice first reminded me of ham, then rendered a not-quite-floral, almost musky, tea-like flavour in the back of my throat. It’s an odd, pungent taste I detect in some meat substitutes. Not quite "here there be dragons" but off my usual gustatory map.
My bibimbab was a bright riot of disparate elements from carrot to sprouts to a selection of mock meats, some of which were honeyed tasting. Overall a good meal, but it tended towards too sweet, even my lunchmate’s scoop of vegetable-studded mashed potato.
Later in the week, too lazy to cook for guests, I tried their take-out. A few items were lost in translation. Sweet potato fries were not the expected orange-fleshed variety, but another deep-fried tuber – pale yellow – with a sugary batter.
We puzzled over a pale jiggly round mound in a sauce with diced veg. The group’s gourmand said, "This is one of the weirdest things I’ve seen but I like it," while his gourmet wife said, "I can’t believe you’re having seconds of that." Was this really the cashew nut tofu we ordered? Perhaps a cashew-milk tofu? I’m still wondering.
But homemade dumplings were good, and black pepper sauce noodles were unanimously enjoyed (and offered as a lunch special).
If Su Shian Yang could kick up the spice, and tone back the sweetness, it could really capitalize on what the gourmand termed its "alien/comfort-food quality."
Su Shian Yuang
420 Rachel East; 438-380-2829
Lunch specials: $9.60-$11; dinner $15-$25, tax, tip not incl.