Restaurants: House of Vege, Lomita

By way of a rather long preface, let me explain how it is we came to try the House of Vege in Lomita:

When we lived in Chicago, we visited Chinatown at least every other week to grocery shop, to get haircuts, and of course to EAT. We tried quite a few places before we found our 2 favorite: Lao Szechuan (used to be Mandarin Chef) and Hing-Kee Phohung Restaurant (technically Vietnamese).

The former is owned and operated by Chef Tony Hu, who studied at the Sichuan Culinary Institute – this seems to make the place an anomaly because many smaller Chinese restaurants tend to be mom-and-pop operations that are started because mom or pop is a great cook, then the rest of the family pitches in at the front or back of the house. Lao Szechuan was an addiction for us in the years BC (before children!) – we went almost weekly and tried many, many things on the menu and loved just about all of them. Lao Szechuan was also the very first place we went after our daughter was born, and she was treated like a star from her first appearance at 6 weeks of age, most of the staff having seen us in the pregnant stage for months beforehand.

After our son was born and the kids were eating “real” food, we fell away from going to Lao Szechuan, partly because they wouldn’t eat spicy food and partly because my husband brought home some Chinese cookbooks (in Chinese) from the grocery we haunted there. We started to cook Chinese at home more and more (it used to be something my husband did on occasion and just out of his memories of his mother’s cooking). Because he hates cooking from a recipe, my husband will still just skim the basic ingredients and methods and then go to it. Being a “foreigner” I usually follow them pretty much to the letter, making adjustments for health reasons by cutting down on fat, omitting MSG, etc. Between us we have developed a pretty broad repertoire of home-cooked Chinese food and even tried our hand at some fancier dishes.

The sad part of the story is that as we cooked Chinese at home more and more, we liked eating Chinese out less and less! We’ll screw up our courage, pick a place we’ve heard about, go eat there, and come home disappointed. We have a running joke at our house that people say to me, “Oh, your husband’s Chinese – you must know the BEST place to get GREAT Chinese food!” And I have to say, “Well, um, yeah – at our house!”

We now live in the South Bay area of Los Angeles, within striking distance of many Chinese restaurants. When I had a similar conversation with a local and complained that we hadn’t really found anything satisfactory in LA’s old Chinatown (downtown) or its new one (the Monterey Park area), she confided that that’s because the best ones are in the South Bay area!

So last night, determined to branch out, we tried House of Vege in Lomita. The restaurant doesn’t appear to have a website, but you can find many, many reviews via a quick Google search.

My own review would run something like this:

I am not a vegetarian, but I do prefer vegetarian food, and I remember many, many vegetarian restaurants from my time in Taiwan. The bizarre thing for us “foreigners” is to walk into a restaurant that claims to be vegetarian and find that the menu lists the usual suspects: kungpao chicken, orange beef, three happiness, fish in brown sauce….  The fact of the matter is that these places use very cleverly made “fake meat” (usually tofu and tempeh) to simulate not only the taste but also the texture and appearance of these protein sources.

House of Vege does a very respectable job of creating “fake” versions of many standard Chinese restaurant dishes.

We ordered a cauliflower and corn soup (daughter’s request) and found it excellent but wondered why there were strips of what looked like carrots and turned out to be tofu – the real carrots that were in there were great!

For our appetizer, we ordered “Peking Duck” and were completely charmed by it: in a true Peking duck restaurant, you would be served a duck as part of several courses – often soup, stirfry, and roasted. The roasted part is probably everyone’s favorite: you get served little pancakes on which you spread plum sauce, add a slice of roast duck, top with its crispy skin and some scallion, wrap it up, and voila – duck taco! At the House of Vege, you get a steamed pancake made of yeast dough (like mantou, but pancake-shaped) spread with a sauce that

We also found the cashew chicken and shrimp/pork/chicken over rice cake to be very good, particularly the fake shrimp. We were very disappointed in the spicy tofu – great tofu, sauce was really lacking and overly cornstarch-thickened. My favorite dish was the lotus root slices with snowpeas and wood-ear.

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