Check out a truly off-the-menu offering–my first impressions for another new restaurant in town, Carmel’s Mon Chay restaurant, specializing in vegetarian Vietnamese fare.
With two new Vietnamese restaurants in town—Banh Mi Bar in Marina and Món Chay in Carmel—I decided to go all in and try them both in one night, having Vietnamese two-ways for dinner. I started with banh mi from the Banh Mi Bar, figuring a sandwich was a good way to warm up for the main event, and a way to sneak in some meat before my vegetarian dinner at Món Chay.
After warming up with a banh mi sandwich, I headed over to Carmel to check out Món Chay, which specializes in vegetarian Vietnamese food. Literally, my fellow carnivores, there is no meat on the menu. A bit of a niche market, I have to believe. The menu is heavy on fake meats rather than just using vegetables. Hmmm.
I started with appetizers—fried egg rolls and fried wontons. They weren’t bad, but really nothing to write home about either. They were a little dry and the filling tasted a little gritty.
Next up was the Tango Green Mango salad, with shredded green mango, mint and soy-protein “shrimp”. I wanted to like this, but the kitchen had a heavy hand with the rice vinegar, giving it a strong bite of acid. The fake shrimp weren’t bad—they certainly didn’t taste like shrimp though.
For the main course, I chose the five-spice tofu vermicelli noodle bowl. I chose this dish since it’s something that appeared similar to a meaty favorite of mine at local carnivore-friendly Vietnamese restaurants, like Noodle Bar.
The bowl arrived with an assortment of tofu preparations—some crispy triangles of tofu, stripes of “smoked” tofu and crunchy tofu “jerky”—along with lots of mint, cilantro and peanuts over a generous portion of noodles. The noodles were dry and gummy, sticking to themselves without the addition of the accompanying sauce. The flavors were refreshing, but they didn’t have the robust spices I wanted. The tofu kind of fell flat without much flavor.
I tried the salted plum lemonade—basically a brined plum in the bottom of a glass of lemonade. When I got a swig of salty plum and sweet lemonade, the flavors were great. But watch out for that last swig that’s heavy on the salty brine!
Our servers were clearly still figuring out the menu—it took two servers to explain some of the dishes. And I was rather worried when one of them didn’t know what Sriracha was. (Turned out he didn’t know the proper brand name, and only knew it as “red chicken sauce.”)
I think I’m too much of a meat-eater to be entirely objective at Món Chay, honestly. While I was rather underwhelmed with my first meal here, I’ll give them another shot. Maybe if I order better—I’m eyeing the vegetarian pho—and give them some time to work out kinks in the kitchen and kinks with service, dinner will fare better.
For now, though, my first impressions weren’t nearly as promising for Món Chay as they were for my first sandwich at Banh Mi Bar.