Whether you’re a vegetarian or the kind of person who will pull over at he faintest waft of smoking hickory charcoals, sometimes it’s not a bad idea to just lay off the meat for a spell. Revolutionary Soup and Eppie’s may earn top marks for vegetarian fare in Best of C-VILLE every year, but the choices for tasty meatless meals have come a long way of late.
The menu at Song Song’s Zhou & Bing, 108 Fifth St. SE, has three basic categories: zhou, salads and bings. Zhou (pronounced “joe”) is a thick soup that comes in two varieties. The first is the 10-grain (buckwheat, barley, wheat, and oats; a blend of rices; yellow millet; and the medicinal kickers, Job’s tear and Gordon Euryale seed). The other choice is the rice and celery zhou (sushi-grade rice, celery, and peanuts with a wolfberry additive). Both zhous are mild in flavor and benefit from the addition of red chili oil and pickled garlic cloves. Or, either can be sweetened with sugar and eaten as breakfast.
Song Song’s also offers two salad choices. One is a marvelous celery and peanut concoction spiced with star anise, chili oil, and rice vinegar. The peanuts are cooked in a spicy broth first. I detest celery in general but I love this salad. And for those who dig on the ’shroom, there’s a muer salad of woodear mushrooms from northeast China.
Lunch at Song Song’s is, however, based on the bing. The bing is a stuffed pancake with three options: vegetarian, red bean, or pork and leek (the only non-veggie menu item). The veggie bing (1) is fantastic. Sweet peas, corn, and mild cheddar cheese stuffed into a pancake, pan fried in just enough soy oil. They come out golden brown and just short of crispy on the outside. There’s soy sauce and a great rice wine vinegar for dipping, as well as chili oil for heat. If you’re lunching with a devoted carnivore, the delectable pork and leek bing will sate their every need.
Proprietor Song Song is formerly both a scientist and business executive. Eager scholar and polymath that she is, when it came time for a more passion-driven career change, she studied the ancient medicine and healing properties of carefully prepared foods from her native China. She opened the restaurant last January to offer healing foods. Her menu will tell you exactly which malady each zhou benefits and prevents. And she went one step further: Using family recipes and tricks she picked up through her own experimentation, she made it all delicious.
Song does everything here herself and is a relentless perfectionist, hand-picking produce several times weekly to ensure the highest quality. Every menu item is $2.50. If you spend $10 here, you’re a glutton.
Around the corner at Twisted Branch Tea Bazaar, there’s an almost entirely vegetarian menu. Last time there I tried both the dahl and rice (2), and the falafel pita (3). Dahl is the subcontinental lentil soup staple and done quite well here. It comes with a sweet chutney paste and pita for scooping. The falafel wrap comes with an excellent mixed green salad lightly coated in a miso dressing.
For those who like a bar scene, Black Market Moto Saloon, at Meade and Market, has been an invaluable addition to the veggie options on the Belmont dinner landscape. It serves a terrific black bean burger. In the $11 range, the Saloon offers rib-shaped tofu chunks slathered in a tangy barbeque sauce. Both plates come with either fries (go for the garlic version) or a mixed green salad in vinaigrette. All very good.
For weekend brunch, we’re staying in Belmont. La Taza, at Monticello and Hinton, lays out a very nice veggie quesadilla (4) with pineapple, pico di gallo, tomato, cilantro, and black beans in a lightly grilled flour tortilla. If you need eggs, the La Banessa (5) is three corn tortillas rolled up with egg, tomato, onion, and green chili and topped with sour cream and a black bean purée. There’s a dollop of red sauce for extra oomph in the middle of it all.