If you haven't figured out already, I'm a vegetarian, but in general I prefer eating at non-vegetarian restaurants. That's not only because it's easier to convince dining companions to come along to restaurants that serve meat, but I can almost always find something I like in "normal" restaurants, and overall I've found the food is better than in all-veggie places. But even so, I'm predisposed to like vegetarian restaurants like Zen Palate because I respect what they do and how difficult it is. I ate at ZP's Union Square location a few times before it closed, and I liked my experience there. So when my friend BD and I were looking for a place to grab dinner on 9th avenue last night, I suggested Zen Palate. He was game for vegetarian food, so why not?
We walked into the restaurant and it was...weird. There's a small, drab front area with a few tables crammed along the edges of the room around the front desk area, as if as an afterthought. The hostess asked if we wanted to sit in the dining room, we said yes, and she said we should walk down the hall. A bit of confusion ensued, but finally we found the hall she was talking about-- a long, dingy hallway that passed the kitchen and the bathroom, terminated in a swinging door, and finally opened up into the "dining room" by the back host's stand. We asked for a table for two and were seated immediately. The back dining room was also pretty depressing-- rather dark, not much decor... nothing great.
As we looked over the menu, the couple at the two-top next to us (our tables were VERY close together) called over the waiter and asked, "Where is the tofu in this dish?" The (very genial and friendly, it must be noted) waiter pointed to a dumpling and explained that THAT was the tofu, that it was seasoned and ground up, etc. etc. The couple was not amused, and, declaring "We'd like to see the menu again; we'll need more protein," promptly ordered another round of food. While they did ultimately like their second go-round, this didn't bode too well for our upcoming meal.
We placed our order and I got up to use the bathroom. By the time I returned about three minutes later, the food had already arrived. Wow. BD had ordered the grilled sesame tofu salad, which came with a large amount of tofu atop a mound of watercress, all accentuated by cherry tomatoes and fried rice noodles. It actually looked really good, but it was problematic to eat-- the pieces of watercress were huge and covered in splash-prone dressing. BD gave up on the chopsticks and asked for a fork and knife, but even with the help of the gauchly non-Asian implements, this wasn't easy eating. Once he got it down, though, BD liked the salad.