I just returned home from a long, exhausting weekend in Toronto, celebrating my cousin’s wedding with her husband’s massive extended Punjabi family. In the midst of getting nails, hair, mehndi (basically, henna) and makeup done; changing in and out of bling’d out, brightly colored saris and lehengas; observing Hindi prayers and ceremonies; and dancing to catchy bass-laced Indian pop songs, we spent a large majority of our time eating.
Most of what we ate – homemade fried pakora, spinach and paneer-filled samosas, channa masala (chickpea curry), homemade yogurt, hand-rolled naan and puri, spicy eggplant, and a plethora of Indian sweets – was vegetarian, and after a four or five days, I was surprised to find I didn’t miss my normally carnivorous diet.
Which got me thinking: there must be some interesting and delicious vegetarian-friendly options nearby. I asked around and my friend Diana offered to take me to one of her favorites, Green Zone, tucked away and slightly out of place in a small San Gabriel strip mall.
Filled with a bustling crowd of young fashionable professionals and older, discerning Chinese-speaking eaters, Green Zone is a bastion of commitment to fresh organic food in the middle of a neighborhood known more for authentic Cantonese, Taiwanese, and South East Asian cuisine than for its participation in the green movement. Not that Green Zone is short of authentic flavors.
We walked to our table, passing baskets of fresh zucchini, yellow and butternut squash, avocados, bananas, mangos, carrots, bok choy, cabbage, apples, nectarines and oranges available in the organic market portion of the dual store-restaurant. The market also sells specialty tea blends and spices.
The restaurant’s modern décor is a contrast to its plaza neighbors, pairing a friendly pale yellow wall with lime green chairs, and dark wood accents. And Green Zone’s menu reflects this same, forward-thinking approach.
After much deliberation, we settled on the “taster’s sampler” (prawn tofu wrap, crispy salmon triangle, mini shrimp rolls), the vegan-friendly mushroom salad, organic Hainan chicken rice, the vegetarian sukiyaki, and passion fruit ice tea.
To start, the salad was an earthy, buttery medley of portabella, crimini, shiitake and enoki (my favorite!) mushrooms on a bed of butter lettuce and mixed greens, drizzled with citrusy miso lime dressing – nicely balanced and refreshing.
Our other vegetarian item, the sukiyaki, was a flavorful pot of carrots, zucchini, cabbage, mushrooms and other vegetables simmering in a sweet (perhaps too sweet for my tastes) Japanese-style broth, which we happily poured over our bowls of wild rice.
My favorite dish, of course, was the Hainan chicken, a Chinese classic with a subtle Green Zone touch. The boneless, skinless organic chicken was moist and tender, a nice summery, complement to the fragrant lemongrass rice and savory ginger scallion dipping sauce.
Everything we ate at Green Zone tasted fresh and healthy, satisfying but not guilt-ridden, flavorful but not heavy or excessive – just what I crave during the sweltering summer months.
534 E Valley Blvd, Ste 4-5
San Gabriel, CA 91776
What foods do you crave during the summer?