New place in town opens with great food

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

You people may or may not know, but there is a new restaurant in Guelph, Zen Garden. Zen Garden is a new all vegetarian restaurant located just south of downtown at 104 E. Surrey between Wyndham and Neeve. My girlfriend and I are both vegetarians, she was excited to try out the new veggie fare in town but I was more hesitant. I had flash backs to when i first tried the old Cafe Aquarius. Maybe my bad Aquarius experience was because I picked the wrong item or day of the week or phase of the moon or because I had yet to realize that a good burrito is had to find in Guelph regardless of any other factors but my thoughts focused on that dry grainy burrito I had five years ago.

Reluctantly, I took her for her birthday. We walked in to a dream. The building is a converted house located where Kristoria used to be. The dining area itself speaks volumes about the food as well. The building seems to be about 75-100 years old with a large fireplace and hefty wood moulding. The paint work shows off a blending of modern and traditional values contrasting orange and white walls. The furniture also exudes modern functionality with traditional style.

All of this would be for naught if the food tasted like pan-fried cardboard but the prognosis looked good. We started with strawberry bubble tea. I forgot how much I despised bubble tea but was assured that is was delicious as my girlfriend finished my glass at the end of the meal. We also shared an appetizer of pan-fried mushroom dumplings with ginger sauce. At the first taste, it was delicious. With or without the sauce it is likely that these would be gobbled down by anyone with taste buds.

next came the main course. I chose the szechwan tofu while my girlfriend chose the curried veggies with a side of purple rice for each of us. The bowls came to us with the sauces practically still boiling. The portions were fairly large. I had barely eaten all day so i was able to finish mine but under normal circumstances there would be a snack heading home. The food was exquisite.

The biggest worry when going to a restaurant that takes a new slant on cuisine is that by adding new elements, the traditional elements are lost. I am big on spicy szechwan and the tofu was a little less spicy than I would have ideally liked. However, my entree HAD FLAVOR! So often all that is sought is the spice while a quality meal uses the spice to accent other flavors and adds to the overall taste. i would change a spicy szechwan dish for a less spicy but more flavorful dish any day of the week. The curry was right on target as well. It was a bit spicier than the szechwan but presented a flavor that was more than just "hot, medium or mild."

Zen Garden is definitely a place to try if you haven't already. I can't really say how the service was for our meal. There was only us and one other table when we went. With it being that slow, there are only two possibilities for the service in my mind: fine or horrible. It was fine, if I had received the same service when it was busy I would classify the service as excellent. It is a bit expensive. Without alcohol, the bill came to $50 including tip for two people. The entrees on their own don't come with rice so that tacks on some cost. With that in mind you might want to save the Zen Garden trip for a special occasion where you expect to spend a little more than normal. Special occasion or if you have the cash to drop on a normal meal try it out. Vegetarians and omnivores alike will enjoy the food.

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  1. Posted by: andrea kb. on Feb 6, 2008 @ 7:51pm

    i tried this place out too! my friend and i had the sushi plate, and something that featured faux chicken and tofu... soooo yummy. i agree about it being a little pricey.

    also - i loved aquarius!! you missed out dude... should've gone for a rice bowl with root veggies and that delicious peanut sauce.

  2. Posted by: on Mar 25, 2008 @ 7:24pm

    I'll have to go check this out! Reminds me of my fave restaurant in Van
    Aquarius just opened up new digs on Willow and Dawson! Ya Crispy Fried :)

  3. Posted by: Sarah on Oct 20, 2008 @ 7:47pm

    My boyfriend and I also tried this restaurant, we went for our 4 year anniversary, and it was amazing. We haven't tried too many veggie places in Guelph, but I was very impressed. The atmosphere was amazing as you said, and the food was great. I'd like to go again, but unfortunately we must save it for a special occasion since it is pricier than usual, but definitely worth it!

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