Friday, March 20, 2015

March PDX Veg Restaurant: Van Hahn

Van Hahn is a Vietnamese restaurant, all vegetarian (and mostly vegan, but not all, in my understanding), run as a nonprofit by a Buddhist temple. They have tofu options plus a variety of mock meats. It's in SE on Division, just a little west of 205, so we met up with a couple friends, L and J, who live in that part of town, for lunch on Sunday.

Website None, but Happy Cow has some menu photos. 

Genre: Vietnamese

Price: Drinks/appetizers $1.99 - $3.99, entrees $7.99 - $8.50, desserts $2.99

Setting: It's a casual setup, in a former house; the eat-in area is fairly small, I think maybe 5 or 6 tables. There's also a deck that appears to offer outdoor seating in nice weather (unlike the day we were there, with a ridiculous windstorm!)

What we tried: J and I both got the broccoli, me with tofu, him the combo (all the mock meats). He also got the pickled lemonade. L got the green beans with tofu. Abe got the special noodles (banh hoi), and a taro smoothie.

The taro smoothie was amazing! I liked my entree too. Served with rice, it was just broccoli and tofu in a sweet-ish sauce, a simply but satisfying stir fry.

The mock meats were... interesting. Honestly, in my haven't-tasted-meat-in-15-years opinion, they are really quite similar in texture and appearance to the real thing. Not so much you couldn't readily tell the difference, but at a glance or first bite, a satisfactory substitute. If, that is, you want a substitute and to feel like you're eating meat. I do not. But if you're an omnivore that wants to cut back, or transitioning into a vegetarian diet, these are probably a very good option. They were close enough, for my senses, though, to be a bit freaky.

Overall impression

The food was good. I don't know if I'd say it's spectacularly better than any other Asian restaurant, but it was good. The mock meats were of a high caliber, if that's something that appeals to you.

I really appreciate and want to support their mission, both the non-profit/temple connection and being exclusively vegetarian. And what I've read from multiple sources online is that the people working in the restaurant are volunteers from the temple. So to truly complain about their service seems extremely rude and disrespectful. 

But, there were difficulties with the service. We had to flag someone down (or even go to the kitchen doorway) to get their attention to order, get boxes, and get the check. At no point did they refill our water, or check on how things were. The server didn't speak fluent English, so asking for additional information about anything was hard, and some of the descriptions on the menu weren't quite complete or consistent (for example, some items said "mock pork", others just said "pork" - we were fairly sure there wasn't any actual meat in the restaurant, but it'd have been nice for everything to be labeled as such). 

I understand that running a successful business isn't their goal, so quality customer service might not seem crucial; but it seems to be that having better customer service would help them promote their mission, and still be worth investing in. I don't think I would ever eat in again, but would certainly be open to getting take-out if I were nearby.

Would I take my parents?*: No. Any Asian food genres aren't really their thing, combined with the service-related issues, it wouldn't be a comfortable place for them. 

*Scale: Heck no. No. Probably not. Maybe. Eh, yeah. Yes. Definitely. 

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