A flat screen runs a silent stream of Supreme Master TV, the 40-seat Palo Alto restaurant's main design element. Supreme Master, out of Southern California, beams "24-hour uplifting news and inspirational programs." Supreme TV epitomizes the phrase "It's all good."
Perhaps there have been snickers about the Taiwan-based chain's choice of name. It is meant to convey loving all the animals, and a traditional Asian bamboo hut.
Each of the world's 25 Loving Huts is a little different. Some are a little fancier than the Palo Alto location, with its prefab furniture and pretzel-shaped yellow logo overhead. The more elaborate ones also have separate lunch and dinner menus. In Milpitas, the first stop on the growing chain's U.S. tour, the menu is more Asian. Where Palo Alto's favorite dish is the avocado BLT, Milpitas serves Szechwan eggplant, Thai soup and pho, the Vietnamese noodle soup.
On the avocado BLT ($8.95), the part of the B is played by paprika-smoked tempeh. It doesn't come close to the texture of bacon. But the strips of fermented soybean cake are heavily seasoned with maple syrup and salt, so if you haven't had bacon in a long time, maybe this could do it for you.
Another popular dish, shepherd's pie ($8.95) honors its British origins as a way to use leftover meat. But instead of being made with the traditional lamb or mutton, this pie uses crumbled soy, eggplant, carrots and onions for a meat-like chewy texture. The potato crust is creamy inside. Most of the entrees come with your choice of soup or salad.
I'd argue that the entree called Raw Fettuccine ($12.95) is really a salad. Although the dish is very pretty, your digestive system may have an ugly reaction to accepting such a load of raw vegetables at once. In place of pasta noodles, there are curlicues of raw celery root.
My advice is to split the salad and get an accompaniment of Seven Seas Rice ($5.50), warmly dressed in lemon sauce. The seven are nutty brown rice, roasted pine nuts, flecks of salty nori seaweed, bell peppers, greens, cucumber and sesame seeds. It is, as advertised, "very harmonious."
Many of the dishes are visual and textural symphonies. The Loving Hut Salad ($8.95) is a bright, attractive composition of seasonal fruit, sweet peas, corn, chickpeas, dried cranberries and pistachios atop crisp organic lettuce.
But this is a very limited menu. For starters, your choice is fresh but otherwise expensive Vietnamese-style spring rolls ($5.50) and Crumbled Sensation ($7.95). Crumbled Sensation is the Loving Hut version of Buffalo wings, fried shrimp or Indian fritters. These are yams in yam-flour batter, deep-fried and served with mayo-free tartar sauce and a refreshing mound of cole slaw.
If you must have dessert, have a fresh fruit muffin ($3.50). It's a little spongy, but tasty and topped with a streusel crust. Egg-free flan ($2.95) is toothache-sweet and has serious texture issues. Chocolate tofu ice cream ($3.50) and mango sorbet ($6.50) are like astronaut or camping desserts.
Everyone who works at Loving Hut is a vegan. If all you know about vegans is that they shun all animal products, Loving Hut serves a purpose. It helps answer the question "What do vegans eat, anyway?"
165 University Ave., Palo Alto
Hours: Mon.-Sat. 11 a.m.-9 p.m.
Credit cards: yes
Parking: on street and in lots
Outdoor dining: yes
Party and banquet facilities: no
Noise level: fine
Bathroom cleanliness: fine
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