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Dining out: Dining out: Long Life Vegi House

Published: Friday, May 14 2004 12:00 a.m. MDT

Long Life Vegi House has had, well, a long life in the Salt Lake Valley.

So have its sister restaurants in such vegan hotbeds as Berkeley, Calif. But the Salt Lake Valley isn't exactly renowned for its large vegetarian population. On the other hand, there are not many other vegetarian options in these parts, although their numbers are growing.

Of course for any restaurant to stay in business more than a year, there must be good food. And, despite a few missteps, there is good food to be had at Long Life Vegi House, and good service to accentuate it.

On a recent weeknight, my mom, my daughter and I visited Long Life Vegi House. It's a nondescript building flanked by rosebushes along its front walk, and the inside is standard but fun to look at, Chinese-restaurant decor.

We started with the vegetarian spring rolls, which arrived hot and savory, filled with shredded carrots, cabbage, sprouts and onions, accompanied by the standard sweet red glutinous sauce and a dollop of spicy mustard. They weren't revolutionary but they were good and competently made.

None of us are vegetarians, although I'd call my mom a vegetarian sympathizer. For this reason, we avoided the "meat" entrees; in my experience, eating "beef" or "chicken" or "pork" made of soybean and wheat paste when you're likely to have the real thing in a day or two is just a reminder of how much it doesn't really taste like meat.

And besides, a couple of the veggie and seafood dishes we tried were good in their own right.

A real highlight of the meal was the treasure of eight, which reminded me of stew as much as anything, with its diced squash, two kinds of mushrooms, peas and brown tofu in plum sauce, a fruity, rich and spicy concoction that really makes the dish. The sauce is plummy without being sweet and is just spicy enough to enhance, rather than overpower, the veggie flavors.

The brown tofu was great, with a firm texture that's a mix of meaty and cheesy. It's chewy, has a nice feel and tastes earthy and more complex than white tofu.

We also enjoyed the cashew shrimp, despite its sparse number of cashews. It's mellow and savory, with sweet, flavorful shrimp in a light sauce, with sliced summer squash and carrots.

But the asparagus in spicy garlic sauce was a disappointment. It's just strange, tasting neither spicy nor garlicky. Instead, we got a sharp, soy-tasting sauce. It's not salty but tastes overcooked, almost burned. Maybe it's supposed to taste that way; if so, it's still not a good accompaniment to the fresh-tasting, well-cooked asparagus.

Our third entree, the vegetarian chow mein with soft noodles, wasn't bad, just bland. The noodles seemed overcooked.

You can get chilled lichee nuts, almond bean curd or ice cream for dessert, but we stuck with our fortune cookies. I usually get terrible fortunes — "You must be more patient," stuff like that — but at Long Life Vegi House, I got a good one: "You are near to achieving perfection."

It's not true, but I'm trying. And, even after all these years, so are the folks at Long Life Vegi House.

Appetizers $2.50-$4.95; lunch plates $4.25-$4.95; family dinners $7.95-$10.95 per person; entrees $4.50-$19; desserts $1-$1.25


Where: 1353 E. 3300 South

Hours: Monday-Thursday, 11:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m.

Friday-Saturday, 11:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m.

Sunday, 5-9:30 p.m.

Payment: Checks, credit cards

Reservations: Not usually needed

Phone: 467-1111


Stacey Kratz is a free-lance writer who reviews restaurants for the Deseret Morning News. E-mail: skratz@desnews.com

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