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Restaurant Sun Dec 23 2007

Pan-Asian Veg: Easier than a Server Thinks

My sweetie and I stopped off at Usagi Ya for dinner while biking back from the MCA and took a table against a soft bench along a bubble like-textured sidewall across from the sushi bar. Our waiter said vegetarian might be hard, that he didn't see many come in, and admitted he wasn't quite sure what vegan was.

With a little gentle direction from my lady, he went to see if there was fish or oyster sauce in the prep of the goma ae, yakisoba, or ginger sauce, and if the ma po tofu could be made without ground pork. We sipped our green tea. Our server returned to surprise me saying that they could make the ma po tofu vegetarian - same for everything else we wanted except the yakisoba, which had a pre-made component with a dash of fish sauce. I deduced that the creamy and savory sesame sauce of goma ae was vegan and made from a tahini base. We got that sauce on the side so we could try their ginger sauce, too.

Presentation was lovely, with the blanched spinach of goma ae tucked into a tight ball that filled a small bowl. We picked bits of the soft green leaves and dunked them into the tasty sauces with chopsticks. They didn't have much flavor themselves, but were a fine conduit. The ginger sauce had a nice sharpness. The ma po sauce spice hit hard against the back top of my mouth, and then quickly went away as I chewed the soft tofu and crunchy green onions. It didn't match the standard I'd set in my mind - the thick luscious sauce of Lao Sze Chuan's ma po tofu in Chinatown. Here it was more broth-like - still good. The sushi bar made us mango mint rolls, and the wasabi I'd heavily mixed into my soy sauce not only gave me a nose rush, but also - in smaller quantities - gave the mint's fragrance a turbo boost. Avocado, cucumber and asparagus rolls, with rice on the outside, finished us off quite nicely - as did small bowls of rice.

As we left, I looked for a take-away menu at the greeter's stand, and when the greeter returned, he offered us a table for two. I asked him for a menu, thanked him, and then we left. Our dinner was a fine way to spend some thirty dollars, one I'd surely return to given another inclination for pan-Asian at the edge of Wicker Park. El: Blue Line Division/Milwaukee. Bus: 9, 56, 70.

 

Seth Anderson / December 24, 2007 10:27 AM

Usagi Ya also makes (made?) great custom tea blends, well worth checking out. The owner blends them himself.

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