Go­ing ve­gan at Her­ban Fix

GA Voice - - Arts Reviews | Entertainment -

I de­tested veg­e­tar­ian cui­sine most of my life. I hated pro­tein sources like squishy tofu and tem­peh mask­ing as meat. I love veg­eta­bles, but most early veg­e­tar­ian chefs grossly over-sea­soned ev­ery­thing, usu­ally with South­west­ern spices. It didn’t help, of course, that un­til the or­ganic/lo­cal food move­ment, veg­gies of­ten didn’t have their full nat­u­ral fla­vors – es­pe­cially if frozen, as most were.

Over time, I’ve come to en­joy veg­e­tar­ian food. Chefs have got­ten more dex­ter­ous, in­clud­ing ve­gan chefs, who for­bid eggs, dairy and meat. Still, when I want to eat veg­e­tar­ian, I usu­ally go to an Asian or In­dian restau­rant. The cui­sine of those re­gions is plant-based and manages, by some mys­tery, to use plenty of spices that en­hance rather than dis­guise fla­vors. Un­less they are cater­ing to Amer­i­cans, they don’t try to dis­guise tofu as meat.

All of this is by way of in­tro­duc­ing

Her­ban Fix Ve­gan Kitchen (565-A Peachtree St., 404-815-8787, herban­fix. com).

The pan-Asian restau­rant, open about a year, is strictly ve­gan and mainly gluten­free. Its chef/owner is Wendy Chang, whose ear­lier ven­tures, Tamarind Thai in Mid­town and Eura­sia Bistro in De­catur, earned high marks with most crit­ics.

The restau­rant is lo­cated in the space that was for­merly Dog­wood – long-de­parted, al­though a few of its gi­gan­tic flower pho­tos re­main. The space is airy with a loft din­ing area over­look­ing the main din­ing room. Co­ral is the ubiq­ui­tous color. In short, this is not a posthip­pie café. It falls into the newish cat­e­gory of “ca­sual fine din­ing.” Most share­able ap­pe­tiz­ers are un­der $10 and en­trées are un­der $20.

Though there are a few dishes fea­tur­ing faux flesh, the vast ma­jor­ity of the menu is all about plants, and that’s what four of us stuck to when we dined there last Fri­day. With few ex­cep­tions, the food was won­der­ful – so won­der­ful that I didn’t feel guilty about forc­ing my friends to eat veg­e­tar­ian food. It was also gor­geously plated.

Con­sider my en­trée – a king oys­ter mush­room glazed and cooked un­til crispy, served over barely braised spinach leaves and a sesame­soy jus. I ad­mit that the dish was a bit sweet for my taste – as were sev­eral oth­ers – but it was oth­er­wise de­li­cious and star­tlingly beau­ti­ful.

As much as I loved that, I think the best en­trée on the ta­ble was the bibim­bap – the Korean fa­vorite served in the tra­di­tional stone bowl, but mi­nus the egg and meat. The dish is a re­mark­able play of tex­tures and fla­vors from crispy and charred to chewy and nutty. The restau­rant’s pad Thai, fea­tur­ing tofu, is pretty av­er­age.

Starters are all over the place. My fa­vorite side dish was a plate of grilled and sliced egg­plant, zuc­chini and yel­low squash. Pun­gent and a bit sweet. The don’t-bother-starter is the or­di­nary dumplings with (an­noy­ingly mild) kim­chi. The ab­so­lutely-don’t-miss starter is the pan-seared scal­lion pan­cakes. Made with a mys­te­ri­ous flour, the pan­cakes have a slightly chewy tex­ture and are served in a stack sprout­ing greens here and there.

There are plenty of desserts. I or­dered a mon­u­men­tally huge slice of gluten-free caramel cake. It wasn’t bad, but didn’t hold a can­dle to my friends’ car­rot cake.

Ser­vice, by the way, is great. I’m sure I drove our server crazy ask­ing what was what in ev­ery fork­ful of food. She was ex­tremely knowl­edge­able and did not force me to eat Spam. Ve­gan din­ing has come a long way since the days of yore. You should def­i­nitely visit.

Cliff Bostock is a for­mer psy­chother­a­pist now spe­cial­iz­ing in life coach­ing. Con­tact him at 404-518-4415 or cliff­bo­stock@gmail.com.

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