During its short tenure on Central, east of Carlisle, the now defunct Filipino Kitchen was perhaps the town’s most carnivorous eatery. At the very least, it was Albuquerque’s only source for pork blood soup. The restaurant space, which shares a plaza with the Route 66 Malt Shop, is now inhabited by a new outpost of Thai Vegan, the original being on Osuna near San Mateo.
It can be tempting to get cynical about vegan food, especially the kind that tries so hard to seem exactly like meat. The kind of food that might as well just scream out “I know, I know, there’s something wrong with me, I’m doing my best to cover it up.”
I’m referring to the likes of imitation shrimp, pink pattern and all. Or fake crab. Or the granddaddy of vegan wannabes, the tofurky. There are places on its menu where Thai Vegan is guilty of that kind of silliness. But that’s about the worst thing one could possibly say about the place, and the wannabe proteins are easily avoided.
In general, while some recipes are constrained by attempts to make vegan versions, others are liberated. The tom yum ($6.95) at Thai Vegan is one such liberated example. I’m accustomed to getting it with real shrimp, squid and scallops, but this one didn’t even contain fake seafood. As an omnivore who appreciates ocean proteins, I would certainly have enjoyed some clam in my mouth. But the root flavors of that dish rang just as true as any I’ve tasted, with brilliant contrasts between galanga root, lemongrass and tomatoes, softened by veggie broth and fresh vegetables. The soup is so bright it feels like you’re tasting colors.
But the root flavors of that dish rang just as true as any I’ve tasted, with brilliant contrasts between galanga root, lemongrass and tomatoes, softened by veggie broth and fresh vegetables. The soup is so bright it feels like you’re tasting colors.
Interestingly, one of the dishes where I most felt the absence of meat was a simple plate of stir-fried Chinese broccoli with garlic sauce ($8.95), on which I missed oyster sauce terribly. The same could be said for the otherwise satisfying fried fat rice noodles, with their nice brown chunks of tofu. One dish that did just fine without the fish sauce was the shredded papaya salad ($7.95), set atop an enormous mountain of micro-greens.
And, much as I’m embarrassed to admit it, there were even a few standout fake meat dishes. The chicken green curry ($7.95), coconut based, was not only a tasty dish in itself, but it brought out the best in the heart-shaped pad of speckled brown rice that accompanied every order. Brown rice, at least, is what they call it. It’s more purplish, though each grain has a slightly different intensity of color. Those nutty, firm grains absorb the thin coconut curry beautifully. Another fake meat dish that commanded respect was the eggplant with peppersteak ($8.95). Even though the protein itself was a wannabe, the way it interacted with the eggplant to become something so much greater was impressive, and the texture was pretty good, I have to admit.
Dinner at Thai Vegan, though filling, was light enough to leave some space in my belly for something that has become a rarity in my life: dessert. There was a lot to like about a deep-fried banana chocolate chip eggroll ($3.95), which isn’t surprising. But what was absolutely stunning was the sticky rice mango dessert ($5.95). With the sesame seeds on the rice, a hint of salt, the creamy sweetness of the coconut and the sweet tartness of the mango, nothing was missing.