Monday, September 01, 2014

Loving Hut @ Westfield Mall

Yes, I got a meal in a mall food court, at a vegan place no less.  See, sometimes I do go for casual food!

If you aren't familiar with Loving Hut, it is a chain of vegan restaurants with locations in really random places: Texas, Florida, Illinois, even Hawaii, among many others.  More than 200 worldwide.  Each restaurant has its own menu, although they seem to have some staples.  In the Bay Area, they have a few locations in the South bay (Palo Alto, Milpitas, Santa Clara, San Jose), plus three in San Francisco.  About half are in mall food courts, the other half are regular restaurants.

When Ojan lived down in Palo Alto we visited that location once, and I'm pretty sure that years ago I ate at one of the restaurants in San Francisco, but I don't really have memories of any of that, so this review focuses only on the Westfield Mall location.

The menu consists mainly of items from steam tables where you pick a few already prepared items to make up a combo meal, but they also have a few items that are made to order, like appetizers, salads, noodle dishes, and sandwiches.  Oh, and they do have (vegan) desserts of course.
Steam Table Combo: Veggie Chow Mein, Sweet and Sour Savor, Veggie Red Curry.  $8.95.
The majority of the entrees are part of the steam table, where you can pick 2 main items, plus rice or noodles, to make a combo dish.

To start, you pick a carb: noodles or rice.  The rice options are fried rice, white rice, or brown rice.  Since I don't really care for rice, I went for the veggie chow mein as my carb component.  I saw others ask for half and half, so you can also do that, if you really just want a bit of everything.

The chow mein wasn't quite what I was expecting, as the noodles were soft, not crispy.  When I got home, I looked up chow mein and learned that this is actually a regional thing.  Apparently, those of us from the east coast of the US expect chow mein to be crispy (lo mein is soft), but on the west coast, chow mein is soft, lo mein doesn't exist, and "hong kong style" is crispy?  Who knew?

Anyway, the noodles were soft and mushy, and seemed very overcooked to me.  I didn't really think there was much flavor.  The fake beef strips in it were also not very good, but I did like that it had plentiful veggies, including cabbage, onions, sliced mushrooms, and carrots.  The onions were particularly tasty.  The chow mein was my least favorite of the dishes, which is too bad, since it filled half the box.  I wouldn't have picked noodles or rice if not required for my combo meal.  I brought my leftovers home to Ojan, who gladly ate all the chow mein.

Next, you pick two main dishes.  There were at least 8 options, ranging from simple veggies (steamed kale, basil mushrooms, spicy green beans), to tofu dishes (eggplant and tofu, spicy lemongrass tofu), to curries (veggie red curry, sweet potato yellow curry), and a final dish called "sweet and sour savor".

Plain veggies seemed boring to me, and I don't like tofu, so I picked the more interesting sounding veggie red curry and the sweet and sour.

The red curry was listed as spicy, but both Ojan and I found it fairly bland, certainly not spicy, although flakes of red pepper were visible.  The mix contained broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, carrots, and green beans.  All but the green beans seemed overcooked and mushy, like the chow mein.  Perhaps this is just what happens when food sits in stream trays? Although, they did seem to bring everything out in fairly small batches, and the line to order was constant, so I think the turnaround is pretty high.  Anyway, my second favorite item in my combo, but I wouldn't get it again.

At this point, I was a bit sad.  I had a huge mound of food, and I didn't particularly like any of it.  The sweet and sour dish looked the least appetizing, with strange fake chicken slices.  But, back when I was a kid and would get take out Chinese food, sweet and sour chicken was my go-to.

It turns out, I still like sweet and sour.  The fake chicken tasted a bit like seitan, but I think it was soy based.  While it looked gross, it had a really great texture, and the sweet and sour sauce masked all the seitan-like flavor.  The sweet and sour sauce was totally delicious.  Ojan used the rest of the sauce mixed into the chow mein noodles, and said it was great that way.  Also in the mix was red and green bell peppers, onions, and chunks of pineapple.  I'd prefer a slightly thicker sauce, and perhaps some cherries, but, overall, it totally satisfied the craving (that I had no idea that I had) for Chinese takeout.

The sweet and sour "savor" (yes, that is what it was called, I have no idea why), was definitely the best dish, and I'd get it again, but, next time, I'd probably go for the made-to-order items instead of steam table items, as many of those looked really good as I saw them coming out of the kitchen area.

I don't know if you can tell, but this was a massive pile of food.  My eyes bugged out a bit as I watched the server load up the first, largest, compartment with noodles.  I thought to myself that perhaps that is how they do it, fill you up with the cheaper carb dish, and skimp on the others.  Not so much.  He spooned in so much of the curry that it overflowed into the chow mein compartment.  This photo was taken AFTER I had already dug in!  For $8.95, this is an insane amount of food, even for a food court.  You can easily split this with another person, or, even two if you want a lighter meal.
Vegan Carrot Cake.  $3.
Interestingly, there are an impressive number of desserts available: cheesecake (plain, pumpkin, oreo), mocha cake, flan, or carrot cake.

But mind you, they are all vegan.  It seems a bit crazy to pick items that are all so normally dairy focused, but then again, if they can do these well, I guess they are treats for the vegans.  Even though I normally shy away from vegan desserts, I have to admit, they all did look good.  And, you know me and dessert ...

I still doubted that they could really do cheesecakes or flan well.  So I went for the carrot cake.  With carrot cake, the only part I was really skeptical about was the cream cheese frosting.

The other cakes are traditional slices, but the carrot is a cupcake, although with much less frosting than a cupcake normally has.

It was decent.  Very moist, loaded up with carrots, raisins, and little chunks of nuts, well spiced.  The cake certainly didn't seem strange due to its vegan-ness.  The only disappointing part was the cream cheese frosting, but not because it wasn't good, because there just wasn't nearly enough of it.  I really like to have frosting on every bite of my cake, and, there was only enough frosting for a few bites.  The rest was basically just a plain carrot muffin.  And, to be honest, I ate the top part with the frosting, and then went home to have "real" dessert of fruit cobbler with ice cream, and had the rest for breakfast the next day.  Carrot cake without frosting is totally the same as a carrot muffin, right?  Totally fine for breakfast.

$3 for a cupcake/cake seemed fine, and although I probably wouldn't get another one, it wasn't bad.
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