I don’t remember how I first heard about Asian Stars Restaurant. It opened about a month ago in Ottawa, in a partitioned-off section of Denny’s on Clyde Avenue, bucking the tradition of vegan-friendly restaurants opening only in the core. I was intrigued, so I checked out their website.
First I noticed a separate vegan menu, which was very promising. And it was substantial, with lots of variety and 20 different dishes. But then I noticed some of the dishes listed eggs as a component. Red flag raised. However, throughout email correspondence with the staff, I was reassured. One mention of egg (Pad Thai) was an error – the egg had been removed as a component – and the other a misunderstanding. They weren’t totally clear that when an item is labeled as vegan, that people expected it to be vegan without asking to have the egg removed. They mentioned they’d likely remove the egg component altogether, although they wouldn’t be able to reprint their menus right away. (That item is the Love Nest dish.) I can live with that.
A few of us NCVAers decided to check it out for real last night. It was a bit strange walking into a revamped part of Denny’s (I worked at a Denny’s as a line cook as a teenager, way before becoming vegan) but it lacked the cookie cutter Denny’s decor. Inside it was clean, modern, and no-nonsense. It’s perfect for a casual dinner lunch, or low-key dinner. There were several other tables already occupied.
Between the six of us, we probably sampled just about everything on the menu, which can best be described as Asian Fusion. I personally opted for three main dishes (with lots of leftovers) to give me a good sampling. I chose the Kung Pao tofu, the Pad Thai, and the Singapore Style Noodles. I also shared a deep fried banana.
I’m always interested to see how a new (to me or otherwise) restaurant handles its pad thai especially since the vegan versions do not rely on fish sauce and eggs. Asian Stars offers a generous portion, and a tangy, tomato-tamarind sauce. It is a bit spicier than some of the pad thais I have had. The vegan chicken is seitan-bassed, made in-house I’m told, and has a delightful chewiness to it. One thing I noticed is that it was entirely lacking in bean sprouts. I’m not crazy about bean sprouts, so i didn’t really mind, but anyway intent on an authentic pad thai may feel a bit put out by their absence.
The Kung Pao Tofu was everything I could wish for that dish to be. The tofu tasted very fresh even having been fried, and was coating in a chewy coating. The sauce is vibrant and flavourful, with just the right amount of tang and heat. The vegetables were incredibly fresh, and varied. It was generously portioned as well, and came with a scoop of steamed white rice (so no need to order a side on top of the entree.)
The Singapore Noodles were my least favourite of the three, but still excellent. I think I was expecting them to be more like a Singapore Noodle dish I’ve ordered many times at Cosmic Charlie’s in Peterborough, and in that regard it failed. However, like the other dishes, I was impressed by the freshness of the ingredients, and the amount and quality of the vegetables in particular. I ordered this one with tofu, which came in small strips. I find sometimes Asian food can lack enough vegetable content but Asian Stars’ dishes are well-balanced in that respect.
I finished off my meal by sharing a deep fried banana. It says on the menu that it comes with ice cream or honey, but you don’t need to have either. The drizzle of coconut milk (and strawberry sauce) was more than enough, complimenting the crunchiness of the wrapper and the smoothness of the banana. It was very sweet though, and I am not sure if I could manage a whole one! It’s probably for the best not to even try.
Other noteworthy things: One of the owners (managers?) told us that about 80% of their customers since opening have identified as vegan. That blows my mind. Only about 10% of ZenKitchen’s customers are vegan, and it’s a 100% vegan restaurant. I’m not sure what – if anything – that says about either restaurant, or about vegans as a consumer group.
They also mentioned that out of all the feedback they’ve received, only two people have asked about having more gluten-free options. As it stands, their soups are gluten-free, but most if not all of their sauces are not. They said it isn’t cost effective at all to use gluten-free hoisin sauce, which is an important element of their sauces. We advised that they not change too many items, and to look into making a couple of popular items gluten-free but not worry about all of it. Their food is amazing as it is, and you can’t please everyone.
Will I go back? I actually went back tonight for some take out. :)
Asian Stars Restaurant
1380 Clyde Ave Unit B