Arts & Entertainment

Restaurant Spotlight: Sunflower Vegetarian Restaurant

0-335Sunflower Vegetarian Restaurant gives a lot away with its name. Diners are getting sunflowers (by way of decor) and vegetarian food (by way of an extensive menu of Asian-inspired dishes). But the moniker does little to express the degree to which sunflowers and vegetarian food become part of the experience.

From first setting foot on the sunflower mat leading up to the stand-alone restaurant, a vast collection of sunflower replicas and sunflower-decorated trinkets adorn the Seven Corners-adjacent spot. Whether whimsical – like stuffed sunflowers with smiling faces fixed to the wall – or serious – like a grand-scale painting of a woman sitting in a sea of sunflowers – these big-bloom plants seem to cover every surface.

The menu, too, is surprising for its numerous vegetarian offerings. Vegetables, be they served over rice, folded into noodles, wrapped up as sushi rolls or stacked atop bread, make up nearly 100 different appetizers, soups, salads, sandwiches and entrees, a number rivaling any Asian restaurant, even those using meat in their dishes.

The restaurant relies heavily on meat substitutes, usually tofu or soy protein, to stand in so as to recreate popular Asian dishes. Such is the case with the pan-fried dumplings ($4.50). Where once was pork is now seasoned tofu and tofu skin, which add a familiar meat texture and delicious savory flavor for variety amidst crisp cabbage and mushrooms.

While soy elements appear again and again throughout the menu, this spot does get inventive with the protein element and its mock-meat potential. The General Tso’s Surprise ($12.50) uses soy protein to form small, fried balls, which are served coated in a slightly spicy, tangy sauce alongside broccoli and carrots. The namesake surprise must be that this dish is not made of chicken at all – the texture, color and even the taste would all suggest otherwise.

Not all dishes take such a creative approach to the soy protein. The As-You-Wish Garden ($12.50) combines shapeless logs of the stuff with vegetables in a hefty dish of noodles. But as the soy steps back, the vegetables step forward, and the quality of the fresh ingredients the restaurant uses shines through. The satisfying crunch of carrots, mushrooms and snowpeas syncopates the dining experience, and the powerful aroma of basil wafts from the dish. All are combined in a potent sauce, herb-seasoned and tangy, that sinks into every pore of the soy protein and saturates the pan-fried noodle base.

The made-to-order soup menu offers the greatest variety of these vegetables, serving up sliced bits of ingredients like daikon and bamboo shoot in such a way that chicken and beef broth bases are not missed. The Thai Tom Yum soup ($3.50) combines white mushrooms, tofu, tomatos, baby corn, bamboo shoots and snow peas in a sour and spicy broth. Despite cooking in the liquid base, the vegetables hold up – even the less resilient tomato pieces maintain much of their sweetness and texture while taking on the flavor of the soup. The soup, while fulfilling the requirement of comfort-food warmth, is still light for the main role the vegetables play.

Even dessert is served up without animal products at this restaurant. The Organic Almond and Blueberry Jelly Pie ($5) may not take on the savory flavor of its butter-bearing cousin but, with sweet and sour notes competing in the jelly topping, is still a satisfying dessert.

Diners can expect to pay $15 for an entree and some type of appetizer. Between these reasonable prices and the health-conscious menu (all vegetarian, some vegan and gluten-free), this restaurant is a good pick for carnivores and herbivores alike – and the fake meats don’t hurt in helping the two come together at the table.

Sunflower Vegetarian Restaurant is located at 6304 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church. For more information, call 703-237-3888 or visit crystalsunflower.com. Restaurant hours are Monday – Saturday: 11:30 a.m. – 10 p.m. and Sunday: Noon – 10 p.m.

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