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To Meat or Not To Meat

Great Balls of Rice: The Great Vegi Land showcases an extensive vegetarian menu, long on sensuous tofu and hearty vegetable platters.

The Great Vegi Land explores the gastronomic possibilities of faux flesh

By Judi Blackwell

IS IT JUST ME or do other vegetarians have trouble stomaching substitute meats that look exactly like the real thing? Seriously, don't many people quit eating meat because the idea of dead animals is unappetizing? Yet it must be tempting for a veggie eatery to try and attract those unrepentant carnivores who just can't give up the appearance, texture and taste of flesh.

The latest in the current wave of faux-meat establishments to set up base in the Bay Area is the Great Vegi Land (yeah, I know, it's a weird name). Located in a small, 12-table space--nothing fancy here--this quaint mom-and-pop shop offers friendly service along with an extensive vegetarian menu, long on sensuous tofu and hearty vegetable platters. Vegetarian beef with broccoli, vegetarian duck, smoked vegetarian fish, stuffed eggplant cake, braised tofu--the menu feels like a welcoming handshake to meat-eaters poised on the border of Great Vegi Land. And the dishes taste even more inviting, as we found out on recent visits to the four-week-old restaurant.

Won ton soup ($1.75) and vegetarian dumplings ($5.25) jump-started our meal. Although the soup proved uneventful, the dumplings scored major points with their light and delicate spinach shells and tender vegetable fillings.

As for entrees, the menu's 28 mystery "meats" make choosing just a few dishes difficult. Though the vegetarian curry chicken and shredded pork sounded dreamy, we went with the equally beguiling vegetarian kung pao diced chicken ($4.95), stuffed eggplant cake ($4.95) and vegetarian beef with asparagus ($5.25).

The beef, anchored by two balls of rice and the basic spring roll, was a vernal delight full of just-cooked asparagus spears and scatterings of wheat gluten in a sweet brown sauce. The deluxe kung pao chicken proved just as satisfying, its abundant helping of tender diced faux poultry accompanied by a spicy sauce chock full of cashews, julienned carrots, baby corn and zucchini.

To finish off the meal--sorry, no desserts offered--we sampled the stuffed eggplant cake. Deep-fried and drenched in a Hunan-style hot sauce, this plate proved to be my lunch companion's favorite dish, ending the meal on a spicy but flavorful note.

Great Vegi Land is located at 562 S. Murphy Ave., Sunnyvale (408/735-8040). Open Monday­Friday, 11am­9:30pm, and Saturday­Sunday, noon­9:30pm.

Send tips to Vegging Out at 550 S. First St., San Jose, 95113.

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From the September 12-18, 1996 issue of Metro

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