As a long-time vegetarian and even-longer Bay Ridge resident, I couldn’t have been more excited for the opening of Shangri-La (7400 Third Avenue), the neighborhood’s first meat-free restaurant. (It’s in the old corner space formerly occupied by Carvel, which moved a few doors down from Tanoreen.) It seems like the opening has been months in the making; the awning has been up since late May. But a handwritten sign posted to the door last week announced a Sunday opening, and when I called for delivery that day (having already grabbed a menu forever ago) someone answered the phone and took my order! Like ordering from a vegetarian restaurant in Bay Ridge was something people did everyday!
The food is very reminiscent of Wild Ginger, in Williamsburg, for those of who know it. Vegetarian Chinese-style food generally comes in two styles: Wild Ginger’s, and the “fake meat” style that many local restaurants have already adopted, from Dragon China to Thai Food 88, where you get your broccoli with tofu or “vegetarian chicken.” I actually like that stuff every once in a while, but a standalone vegetarian restaurant needs to do more, which this one does, substituting fauxmeat with less gimmicky vegetable-protein-based meat alternatives like tofu, seitan and “soy protein,” as well as, of course, dishes built around plain old vegetables. This isn’t Asian food pretending to be something else to pick up an ignored market-share; it’s Asian food with a guiding philosophy, one that’s meat-free (and, according to the menu, almost entirely vegan, save for one or two dishes).
In the excitement, I accidentally ordered more seitan (derived from wheat gluten) than I meant to: the seitan skewers as well as the salt-and-pepper seitan, plus steamed spinach shumai. That last one was quite a treat, as it’s been years since I had Japanese-style dumplings, which I always preferred to their Chinese counterparts, and they didn’t disappoint. The skewers tasted remarkably like those I’ve had once or twice before from the old Bedford Avenue Wild Ginger: chewy, tangy, with lots of savory flavor. The cuts of salt-and-pepper seitan had the texture of sliced gyro meat; they were spicier than the skewers, with a richer, darker flavor, on a bed of bokchoy that was light, snappy and slightly bitter.
But to be honest, I wasn’t paying close attention to the flavors; it was all delicious, and I was so overwhelmed by having ordered it to a Bay Ridge address that I couldn’t really focus on the food. Shangri-La is a great addition to the neighborhood, for anyone who likes American-style Chinese food with more culinary style, inspired by other Asian cuisines, than the usual storefront offerings, but it’s an essential addition for vegetarians.
We’ll followup with what it’s like to dine in the space soon, plus talk to the owners about why they chose vegetarian and Bay Ridge.