Restaurant review: Ye's Asian Vegan Kitchen
Old-school Chinese restaurant takeout favorites, plus other classics inspired by nations in the Far East receive mostly appealing vegan makeovers
To the growing list of tempting dishes cooked in Columbus eateries catering to the dietary needs of vegans — but that will easily please omnivores, too — add old-school Chinese restaurant favorites, plus other classics inspired by nations in the Far East. Welcome to Ye's Asian Vegan Kitchen, serving in Hilliard since mid-September.
Based on conversations overheard among customers visiting from multiple suburbs — as well as out-of-towners from Lancaster — I'd say Ye's astutely fills a niche. Where else in the area can you find Asian fare that's already popular with many modern Midwestern palates, but is prepared with more fresh vegetables and without any animal-based products? Bonus: Ye's food tastes good.
Though modest, Ye's is accommodating enough. Sure, its taupe walls are bare, but this isn't an altogether bare-bones operation. Hanging, shoji-type lanterns announce a preference for Japanese-style minimalism and provide soothing lighting. Jazz or Asian pop music sometimes plays. And mood-adjusting adult beverages are offered that include a workable little wine list (most bottles are under $30); bottles of Japanese, Thai and Chinese beers ($3.79 each); and several respectable sakes served cold — as they should be — sold under the Sho Chiku Bai label ($15 and $16 for 300 milliliter bottles).
For a crowd-pleasing starter to partner with your palate-opening libation, try the pan-fried house Vegetable Dumplings ($8). Essentially veggie-packed gyoza clad in spinach-accented green wrappers, they're filled with a pleasant amalgam that could almost pass for garlic-scented ground chicken.
Ye's Seitan Skewers ($8 for four) resemble skillfully fried chicken nuggets, only made from high-protein, low-carb seitan — aka “wheat meat” — rather than poultry. The crispy, golden-brown seitan segments are fashioned into kebabs with pineapple and onion, and come with an enhancing peanut sauce on the side.
The highly recommended Malaysian Coconut Curry ($15) is awash in a “creamy” peanut sauce that offsets its moderate chili-flake heat — “spicy” here generally means a just-threatening tingle — with a mild sweetness modified by a hint of ginger. The appealing sauce flatters a wealth of nicely cooked vegetables that includes zucchini, broccoli, green beans, mushrooms, asparagus snippets, knobs of Japanese eggplant, the occasional potato chunk and more. Like most of Ye's entrees, it's big and arrives loaded with a choice of firm soy protein pieces or deftly fried large tofu cubes, and is served with rice (white or brown), plus straightforward miso soup or an iceberg lettuce-heavy salad with a ginger-kissed dressing.
Another highlight — the Singapore Rice Noodles ($12) — boasts more veggies than what you usually get elsewhere, but otherwise tastes uncannily similar to the beloved preparations served in countless good American Chinese restaurants. Room for improvement: I appreciate that the textures and flavors of the curry powder-livened wispy rice noodles and soy protein are on point, but I wish this stir-fried dish weren't as faithful to more standard versions in its oiliness.
While also good-tasting, most of the other stir-fry entrees I tried would have benefited from a little less oil, too. You can lump the String Beans in Garlic Sauce ($14) in this category. Otherwise, this main course — which could easily double as a shared side for a group of diners — is a fine assembly of properly seared fresh beans, red peppers and fried garlic chips.
The huge General Tso's entree ($16; get it with tofu) features a light and zippy sweet-and-sour sauce, plus uncommonly bright and abundant fresh broccoli florets smartly steamed separately. It's a very likable dish, but I wish my broccoli had been warmer and adequately drained.
Another nifty take on an old favorite — Kung Pao ($15) — demonstrates what this place does best: enhance a familiar, irresistible dish with numerous healthful and delicious vegetables.
2469 Hilliard Rome Rd., Hilliard