Verily impressed by Philadelphia’s vegan eats at both Sweet Freedom Bakery and Vedge (where I experienced the most perfect meal of my life), my mother and I expectantly journeyed once more into the heart of downtown Philly for our last memorable meal in the city: brunch at MiLah Vegetarian.
Owned and operated by Buddhists, the restaurant features eastern-style decor, yet boasts a plethora of decidedly non-Asian ingredients and dishes on the worldly menu of mouthwatering items inspired by Caribbean, Mediterranean, African, and Mexican cuisines among a sprinkling of Thai, Indonesian, and Japanese offerings. MiLah details their compassionate, admirable mission statement on their website:
“Mi Lah” originates from an Indian Buddhist word that denotes nature, harmony, happiness, and kindess and we strive to embody these principles through our work. We aim to fill the need for healthy, whole and delicious vegetarian cuisine in our neighborhood as well as to be a friendly and active member of our community. Our menu features fruits and vegetables from local farms instead of heavy sauces and substitutions.
The notion of vegan activism through yummy food has long resonated with me, especially when my friends bite into an animal-secretion-free cookie and demand, “is this reallyvegan? I can’t believe it!” Ha. Score one for the planties.
After snacking on a complimentary fruit plate of oranges, apples, and grapes (not particularly astounding at all), our meals arrived promptly…and my mother and I became nervous. Rather amateurly plated, the food looked plain, insipid, and blah. Slapping identical faux smiles on our faces and bracing our forks, my mother and I tentatively took our first bite…and then another…and another…and another, until we found ourselves positively devouring the homely yet surprisingly scrumptious food before us. Moral of the story: don’t judge a meal by its plating!
I opted for the gluten-free version (aka hold the English muffin) of the Tofu Benedict with kale, oven-roasted tomatoes, seared tofu, hollandaise, and sweet potato home fries, accompanied by a side of roasted brussels sprouts (because who can say no to roasted brussels sprouts?). Each component of the dish tasted immensely more complex than its bland appearance would suggest: the tender kale, which I first mistook for simply steamed (rather boring for a restaurant), had been infused with a dose of lip-smacking miso; the pasty white sponges of tofu held a hearty, chewy texture, accented by their crispy exterior; the tomatoes, which I feared couldn’t possibly taste anything like a tomato considering their current out-of-seasonality, proved wonderfully succulent, juicy, and (dare I say?) tomato-ey; the sweet potato home fries…well, I had expected them to please my tastebuds, due to my ardent adoration of sweet potatoes, and they certainly did, especially with a generous grinding of black pepper; finally, the lemony, bright hollandaise complemented every aspect of the dish with its creamy goodness, even though I originally disdained its pastel yellow color. As for the brussels sprouts, they could have used a tad longer in the oven, though I enjoyed their juiciness and distinct sprouty flavor.
My mother chose the Smoked Portabella Mushroom with mustard greens, oven-roasted tomatoes, remoulade, and sweet potato fries. Also gawking at the unbelievably rich flavor of the tomatoes, she assured me of the portabella’s tenderness and deep smoky flavor, as well as the remoulade’s tanginess. The mustard greens, however, coincided with our originally pessimistic view of the meal, as they tasted both undercooked and underseasoned.
By our final brunch bites, my mother and I had happily admitted our mistaken assumptions and enjoyed an overall surprisingly delicious meal. I would love to return for a dinner reservation to sample their tantalizing Pepper-Encrusted Tofu over Edamame Puree with Truffle Oil and Miso Broth, or perhaps their Cambodian Amok with Spinach, Eggplant, and Tofu in a Coconut, Lemongrass, and Dried Chili Sauce. Mmm, mouthwatering vegan noms in the home of the Liberty Bell.
Until next time, Ali.