Food & Drink

I'm (Mostly) Lovin' It

Goodness and Gore at the International District's New Vegan Chain

I'm (Mostly) Lovin' It

Kelly O

AWESOME APRON Are you ready for the noble transition?

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Loving Hut is, first and foremost, nothing like a hut. After locating its semihidden side entrance off Jackson near 12th, you are presented with a long, narrow, stylish room, in which everything—from the simple tables and chairs to the high walls—is bright white. Bursts of color come from the menu: It's a photo essay of Loving Hut's all-vegan offerings, with each dish's name as the only text. The photographs are remarkably attractive, and the dish names reach out and hug you: Save the World Soup, I Will Forever Love You Cake. The Asian waitress's barely-there English cuts the cutesy factor, and Loving Hut hums with an entrancing light installation-art vibe.

The vibe is not unique, as Loving Hut is not unique. It is "currently the fastest growing international vegan fast food chain in the world," according to the website, which lists branches in over a dozen countries, from Austria to Indonesia. Lording over it all: the Supreme Master Ching Hai, the Vietnamese-born humanitarian, artist, and spiritual teacher who conceived the Loving Hut chain as "a beacon of light for an alternative way of living." The key tenet of this alternative way of living: renewed compassion toward animals, maintained through strict veganism, with Loving Hut "offering an accessible starting point for those who want to make the noble transition to a plant-based diet."

Enabling noble transitions is fine, but when it comes to food, vegan or otherwise, all I care about is taste. In this regard, my first visit to Loving Hut was a near-total success. Stopping by for lunch on a rainy day, my dining mate and I had the place to ourselves. To start, we shared the appetizer known as Golden Stick ($5), featuring a dozen or so chunks of soy protein spiced and breaded and served with a side of plain old ketchup. This condiment turned out to be perfect, as the Golden Stick's taste was a stupid-delicious approximation of a corn dog, executed with high-quality vegan ingredients.

Our entrées reached slightly higher and were equally good. The Mushu Delight ($9) was crispy fried soy-protein nuggets in a tangy sauce, served with fresh steamed broccoli and a scoop of white rice. The rice was dotted with black sesame seeds, and everything was tasty. Loving Hut Rolls ($10) were a more complicated affair, involving lightly fried slices of a bouncy soy-based loaf-thing served over greens. The rolls lacked much taste of their own, but benefited greatly from their crisp-fried outer layer and additional chili sauce.

For dessert, we shared the I Will Forever Love You Cake ($6). Ordered strictly for its name, it totally delivered. The "cake" was a perfect Ho Ho sized disk of minty vegan ice cream mounted on a quarter-inch layer of vegan graham cracker crust, all covered in dark vegan chocolate, served with a small scoop of vanilla vegan ice cream on the side. In the wrong hands, vegan ice cream tastes like army- ration ice milk. In the right hands, it tastes like a lightly creamy sorbet. Loving Hut has the right hands, and the whole thing was executed with a dazzling flourish. "I WILL FOREVER LOVE YOU!" hollered our waitress as she placed the cake plate on the table. I had to restrain myself from bursting into applause.

High off this first visit, I soon returned, this time dragging along a carnivore to see if Loving Hut's vegan charms would work on a nonbeliever. Unfortunately, this second visit was undeniably off, right from the start. The Golden Nuggets appetizer ($5) aimed to replicate chicken nuggets, with extremely unexciting results, while the egg roll–approximating Golden Rolls ($3) offered little beyond a mealy, hash-browny mush.

The entrées were slightly better. Seitan Stir Fry ($9) featured pad thai–sized noodles laced with thin strips of carrot and cabbage and jerkylike strips of seitan; it was barely satisfactory, crying out for something as decisive as the Mushu Delight's tangy sauce. The Guru Curry ($9) featured nutty chunks of soy meat tossed with cabbage, broccoli, and carrot in a would-be curry that was also hobbled by blandness. Not using MSG is admirable; not using appropriate spice is foolish.

In terms of atmosphere, things swerved into the surreal mid-meal, when I saw a look of horror seize my dining mate's face. The cause: Loving Hut's large-screen TV, which was broadcasting Supreme Master TV, the internet channel of the Supreme Master Ching Hai, promising "Positive, Inspirational & Entertaining Programs 24 Hours a day, 7 Days a week." Supreme Master TV typically features informative programs on earth-friendly issues. On this night, SMTV was broadcasting an astoundingly graphic exposé on factory farming, complete with extensive slow-motion slaughterhouse footage.

The preaching-to-the-choir aspect of showing such footage in a vegan restaurant aside, no one—NO ONE—wants to see graphic depictions of animal cruelty while they're eating, even if what they're eating involves no animal cruelty. After I noticed other diners wincing and averting their eyes, I asked the waitress to ax it. "It's grossing everyone out," I explained. She happily complied, but any restaurant that doesn't know enough to avoid slaughterhouse footage might need more help than helpful customers can give. recommended

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Comments (15) RSS

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1
Are the waiters and waitresses as spaced out as they are at the resto in my town? Great food (at mine) but it's a weird cult that scares my Vietnamese friends, who avoid the place in fear of indoctrination sessions in a back room. They used to play one song over and over again on a loop.
Posted by carnivorous chicken on December 2, 2009 at 4:31 PM · Report this
Cook 2
OMG there's one of these called veggie era by the school i went to and it was SOOOO GOOD. i'm going tomorrow and getting orange chicken. i hope they have that! the supreme master stuff is odd, but the food is delicious.
Posted by Cook on December 3, 2009 at 12:46 AM · Report this
Herbivoracious 3
I liked the former incarnation of this place (Vegan Garden, same people). The new menu is even heavier on the Americanized fake meats, instead of making good Vietnamese food. I mostly find Supreme Master TV to be supremely campy and fun, but I've never seen the slaughterhouse footage, that is horrific. To me, the biggest downer about this place is they really don't do anything good with um, you know, vegetables - they are mostly just steamed or lightly stir fried with bland sauces. The soups are often pretty good, especially if you ask which ones are spicy.
Posted by Herbivoracious http://herbivoracious.com on December 3, 2009 at 1:23 PM · Report this
4
What's the address?
Posted by westcoast on December 3, 2009 at 6:25 PM · Report this
5
that place was pretty good, but the tv brainwashed me...
Posted by cult on December 3, 2009 at 7:22 PM · Report this
6
too much soy.
Posted by sli098 on December 4, 2009 at 10:17 AM · Report this
7
I've been waiting for this place to reopen. Finally. I can get their delicious noodle/veggie bowl with cinnamon-scented fake meat. Don't knock it 'til you try it.

PS Sorry about your meal with carnage playing in the background. They should really turn the supreme master off sometimes.
Posted by yum on December 4, 2009 at 10:28 AM · Report this
8
@7 - the supreme master is everwhere, including inside of the fortune cookies! but, i agree, yum.
Posted by cult on December 4, 2009 at 11:03 AM · Report this
biju 9
Vegan Garden was decent, I think food at Moonlight Cafe has a better kick and your carnivore buddies can order from their very own meat-menu. The Supreme Master stuff was pretty annoying and distracting so I used to sit with my back to the screen..
Posted by biju on December 5, 2009 at 4:04 PM · Report this
10
They have supreme master restaurants here in Mongolia (and even in the random rural mongolia area I was in) that redo mongolian food with soy meat. It's amazing as well as stupefying that the main "foreign" restaurant in my provincial center was vegan mongolian food...
Posted by charlener on December 6, 2009 at 3:38 AM · Report this
11
Do they have any veggie dim-sum?
Vegan Bistro used to make some awesome stuff but haven't been able to find any since they closed.
Posted by thunderchaps on December 6, 2009 at 12:45 PM · Report this
12
"Not using MSG is admirable..."

Ahem:

"Even now, after 'Chinese restaurant syndrome' has been thoroughly debunked (virtually all studies since [1968] confirm that monosodium glutamate in normal concentrations has no effect on the overwhelming majority of people), the ingredient has a stigma that will not go away." - nytimes

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/05/dining…

http://health.nytimes.com/health/guides/…
Posted by SM9 on December 6, 2009 at 3:46 PM · Report this
biju 13
@11 I don't think they do dim sum. NW Tofu has *some* vegetarian dim sum.
Posted by biju on December 6, 2009 at 4:37 PM · Report this
14
I was pretty disappointed when I went soon after they reopened as Loving Hut. I went with friends who had been big fans of Vegan Garden, and our hopes were soon dashed by the mediocre food. The atmosphere is lovely and the Supreme Master doesn't bother me a bit - they had it in the Vegan Garden too. But the food was sooooo disappointing! We shared almost the exact same menu as David Schmader did the second time and felt the exact same way. The Golden Nuggets were dismal and the Curry was very sad. Even our dessert was bad. All they had that day was mint chocolate ice cream and it appeared to have been frozen and thawed and refrozen with the telltale ice crystals all over it. It was flavorless and the texture was all wrong. It should not have been served. We all agreed that the food was bad enough that none of us wanted to give them even a second chance, which is too bad since vegan restaurants are hard to come by. If other posters have had different experiences at other locations, maybe this location needs to take some lessons elsewhere.
Posted by veganinseattle on December 7, 2009 at 11:37 AM · Report this
15
@12 - Don't get your medicine from the newspapers or claim something is "thoroughly debunked" because you read it there... lol...

Case in point, an abstract from a study done this year -->

Cephalalgia. 2009 Apr 28. [Epub ahead of print]
Effect of systemic monosodium glutamate (MSG) on headache and pericranial muscle sensitivity.

Baad-Hansen L, Cairns BE, Ernberg M, Svensson P.

Department of Clinical Oral Physiology, School of Dentistry, University of Aarhus, Aarhus, Denmark.

Baad-Hansen L, Cairns BE, Ernberg M & Svensson P. Effect of systemic monosodium glutamate (MSG) on headache and pericranial muscle sensitivity. Cephalalgia 2009. London. ISSN 0333-1024We conducted a double-blinded, placebo-controlled, crossover study to investigate the occurrence of adverse effects such as headache as well as pain and mechanical sensitivity in pericranial muscles after oral administration of monosodium glutamate (MSG). In three sessions, 14 healthy men drank sugar-free soda that contained either MSG (75 or 150 mg/kg) or NaCl (24 mg/kg, placebo). Plasma glutamate level, pain, pressure pain thresholds and tolerance levels, blood pressure (BP), heart rate and reported adverse effects were assessed for 2 h. No muscle pain or robust changes in mechanical sensitivity were detected, but there was a significant increase in reports of headache and subjectively reported pericranial muscle tenderness after MSG. Systolic BP was elevated in the high MSG session compared with low MSG and placebo. These findings add new information to the concept of MSG headache and craniofacial pain sensitivity.
Posted by thunderchaps on December 15, 2009 at 8:26 AM · Report this

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