Restaurant Review: Sunflower Restaurant
For the past nine years, whenever we travel, AAM seeks out vegetarian restaurants. A sweet gesture, something I even consider romantic, he always tries to find at least one place where he can take me that I can enjoy anything on the menu. From the world-famous Greens in San Francisco to a small sandwich shop in Paris, our vegetarian dates are adventurous and fun. We have had some fantastic memorable meals, in fact a restaurant we went to in Amsterdam continues to be one of my all time favorite meals. Although he isn’t veg, AAM tends to enjoy these meals because many of the places have elaborate, filling, and wonderfully tasty dishes. Going to vegetarian restaurants can be an affordable way to explore a new city, while also giving your stomach a healthy break from the heavy eating that tends to happen on vacation.
When looking at my area, I am always proud that the various vegetarian organizations always rate it within the top 5 vegetarian friendly cities in the country, and last year it was PETA’s number one city. In DC, it is relatively easy to eat vegetarian, and eat well. It is also not that unusual to be veg; I have many friends who are vegetarian or make efforts to eat mostly vegetarian. There are vegetarian playgroups, resource centers, fast food, high-end restaurants, and markets. For obvious reasons, there is also a heavy international influence in DC. Since meat is not the primary means of substenance in many Asian and African countries, those restaurants offer very deep vegetarian menus, and the DC area is fortunate to have a diverse array of immigrants from those continents.
For the above reasons, I am still unsure why Sunflower is a very popular restaurant for vegetarians in the DC area. Whenever I leave Sunflower, I feel conflicted. I enjoy that the menu is several pages long, mostly vegan, and healthy. The dishes are ones you can largely find in other restaurants, and often done better. Busboys and Poet’s Tempeh sandwich is far superior to Sunflower’s. However, there is something nice about eating at Sunflower. Being an Asian influenced restaurant, I like being confident that they do not use traditional ingredients that have fish in them. Additionally, they use healthy cooking alternatives, so I can take Serafina and be confident that we are enjoying a healthy meal. However, I often leave the meal reflecting on what the meal could have been.
Last night, we stopped in on Sunflower after work. We had to run a few errands in 7 Corners, so we knew we could enjoy a quick meal and that I would be able to find something Serafina could enjoy quickly. Quickly seated, we ordered our meal of springrolls, veggie “fried” rice for Serafina, General Tso’s Surprise for me, and the Sweet and Sour Pineapple for AAM. While waiting for the food, Serafina made eyes with the Buddhist monks enjoying dinner next to us, and they returned the smiles. The two older couples sitting behind us were less than thrilled with Serafina’s antics, but the staff at Sunflower really made her, and us feel comfortable. Thankfully avoiding baby meltdown, our appetizer came quickly. The spring rolls were mediocre, more cabbage than vegetable and very greasy; I am not sure I would order them again. The main course came quickly, and we moved on to a mixed review. AAM’s sweet and sour was beyond soupy, which was tragic due to the amount of wonderful veggies in the meal. The veggie fried rice was decent. Made with brown rice and crispy vegetables, the dish was good, but I do, humbly, believe that the one I posted on the blog awhile back is much better (Click here for my veggie fried rice). I appreciate that Sunflower does not overcook their vegetables, but rather undercook them to emphasize the flavor. This is the secret trick of making a vegetable-based meal yummy. However, in the times that I have visited Sunflower many of the dishes have been too soupy with sauce and the menu is very dependent on soy protein and similar meat substitutes. This was the case for AAM’s sweet and sour pineapple, which he did not like. That being said, this time, my General Tso’s Surprise was good, and not too saucy. A vegetable protein was in the center drizzled lightly with sauce, and surrounded by crisp broccoli. I enjoyed my meal last night, but I left wondering if it could be better, more fresh and innovative.
I would recommend Sunflower for the occasional visit for the vegetarian craving a meat imitation meal or an endless menu. However, when I eat out at a vegetarian restaurant, I want it to be better then what I could cook, original, fresh, and tasty. For us? Sunflower will be the restaurant we quickly stop in for a good meal where Serafina can experience being in the majority, but not a destination on its own.