May 2-8, 2007

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Silicon Veggie - Elisa Camahort

Silicon Veggie

Veggie House Of Bamboo

By Elisa Camahort

I ALWAYS joke that I can order quicker than anyone at a table, because all I have to do is find the one veg*n option on the menu. Sometimes I'm not even that lucky. Like during a recent trip to Omaha, Neb., where the room service menu had nothing—not an appetizer, salad or entree—that didn't include meat.

That's why it warms my heart to go to a place like the Happy Bamboo, a casual vegetarian restaurant that oddly enough serves goulash, "burgers" and other distinctly non-Asian offerings alongside the pho, sweet and sour chicken and pad thai.

Although the Happy Bamboo has been open for a few years, I made my first visit this month and discovered a place to which I'll be returning whenever I feel the yen for more choice. Restaurants like the Happy Bamboo prove that any restaurant could offer vegetarian versions of such items as potstickers, spring rolls, curry and noodle dishes without sacrificing flavor and heartiness.

While I stuck with personal favorites, fried dumplings ($3.75) and sweet and sour chicken ($6.50), my dining companion went for the veggie pho ($6.75 for a large bowl.) This companion is neither vegetarian nor someone with a small appetite, but the huge, steaming bowl of broth, veggies, tofu and faux meat was enough to satisfy even his expansive tastes. The dumplings were lightly browned on the outside, quite fresh tasting and good.

I usually get sweet and sour "pork" at other veggie Chinese restaurants, so trying it with chicken was a leap. No matter how often I eat faux meats, I don't understand how they create strips of "meat" that have not only the flavor of meat (which, let's face it, is often masked by the sauce) but the texture. This dish was a tasty alternative to "pork," and probably healthier, given they eschewed the batter that often surrounds real and faux pork. I could have used a larger portion of the "chicken," but the flavor was wonderful.

The last, best thing about the Happy Bamboo is their selection of vegan desserts. Any vegan will tell you that being vegan means "no dessert for you!" at just about any non-vegan restaurant. Happy Bamboo has several offerings, and I chose the German chocolate cake (a reasonable $2.75.) As far as this vegan is concerned that was a little slice of chocolate-coconut heaven, and all the choice I needed!

The Happy Bamboo Address: 1711 Branham Lane, San Jose. 408.694.0740.

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