Yesterday it was time to take a break from meat and seafood. Over the last two weeks I’ve eaten pork, beef, duck, pork, shrimp, chicken, spot prawns, pork, tripe, jellyfish, char, pork, pork, and pork. How am I ever to dine with my vegan friend Zoe if I keep this up?
Enter 4 Stones Vegetarian, a restaurant owned by a Taiwanese family that under one name or another, has been around for 14 years (they used to be called Simply Vegetarian and located on Ackroyd). I took notice of this place on Westminster one day after I’d left The Oval and was cycling around. Why did it appeal? Because I’ve always been happy to eat vegetarian (I cook without meat most of the time at home anyways), and thought maaaaaybe they’d have vegan dishes, too. I checked the menu online and boom-dy-ada! They do!
I’d like to clarify something before we delve into the incredible world of 4 Stones: I’m not writing this post in hopes of sparking an international debate on the pros and cons of vegetarianism and/or veganism. There’s plenty of space for that on the inter-webs already. What I would like to do is showcase some options available for those who don’t adhere to a mainstream diet, or perhaps have dietary restrictions. They like to eat too, gosh-darnit, and I’ll to do my best to find them something good!
And 4 Stones Vegetarian isn’t just good. It’s EXCELLENT. I was joined by my friends Zoe and Dana (you may remember Dana from Parker Place BBQ and Meat. She’s clearly ok with eating carnivorously one day and vegan the next). These ladies are witty, they are charming, and they are UP FOR TOFU.
We arrived for dinner around 6pm, just as the small restaurant was beginning to fill up. Our server, a pleasant young woman named Kiki, brought us a pot of tea and helped us choose our dishes.
I know it can be difficult and at times frustrating for vegans to order in restaurants; kitchens are often willing to cater to certain needs, but it can be a stressful ordeal nonetheless. At 4 Stones they make it easy – each dish is vegetarian to start with, and any that can be made completely animal-free have V’s next to them. We went with Kiki’s suggestions, handed back our menus, and were as relaxed about the whole thing as cows on a vegan commune. I also noticed they use metal, reusable chopsticks, which is a thoughtful departure from the wooden disposable ones.
We started with a bowl of (rather bland) vegetable soup, and another of Chinese herb soup that was slightly bitter, and our favourite of the two.
We also tried the Oyster Mushrooms (listed under dim sum), which were coated with spiced bread crumbs and fried. They were crunchy and rich, with the flavour of the mushrooms and spices holding up in the deep-frier. The dip they were served with was savoury and amazing; we lapped it up as if it was water and we were lost in the desert.
The first of our mains was Eggplant with Basil and Cha Huo Sauce. The eggplant was stewed and tender, brightened up with fresh basil and edamame and served with brown rice (as part of a combo that included the soup). At 4 Stones they offer either brown or white rice, which I really appreciated.
Next we had Fried Tofu Stew, the name of which didn’t sound appealing at all. I couldn’t help but picture chunks of bean curd floating sadly around in broth. The dish was outstanding, however. The pieces of tofu were coated in an herbed mixture and fried, then braised in an equally sweet and savoury sauce.
Our final dish was traditional Taiwanese fare: Cold Noodles with Peanut and Sesame Sauce. Though a little sweeter than I expected and mild in comparison to the other dishes, the noodles were refreshing and toothsome. The more I ate of this simple dish, the more I realized how I could come to crave it on a hot summer day.
Our 3 dishes, including rice and two small soups, came to $36.07, another bargain for remarkably good food. There wasn’t a single point during the meal at which I thought “this is good, even if it’s vegan.” All I could think was “WOW, this is some of the best food I’ve had in Richmond.” Truly.
And now, in honour of this post, I’d like to share a recipe for vegan cupcakes I baked for Zoe a few months ago. They were remarkably easy, and made with ingredients I already had in my cupboards. Slather them with one of these icings, and you’re set! You’ll have vegan treats that even your bacon-loving friends will fight over.
Chocolate Vegan Cupcakes
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup coffee, water, or coconut milk
½ cup canola oil
2 tablespoons white or apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line 2 (12-cup) cupcake pans with 14 cupcake liners.
In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together coffee, oil, vinegar, and vanilla. Pour the wet mixture into the dry mixture and whisk until just combined. Do not over mix. Fill the cupcake liners about two-thirds full with batter. Bake for 16 to 18 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cupcake comes out clean with a few crumbs clinging to it. Cool the cupcakes completely before frosting.