The Vegetarian Option: Home on 8th
A few short blocks from Madison Square Garden, Home on 8th looks like your typical American-style Chinese restaurant. I was pleased to see that they have an entire menu devoted to their vegetarian dishes, though most of the options are egregiously overpriced. The reason I was excited to try the restaurant is their appetizer portion of the menu, which is populated with vegetarian versions of Chinese street food. Home on 8th operated the "Hong Kong Street Cart" at the recently closed Madison Square Market, where I had the vegetarian peking buns, but when I visited the restaurant they were out of them, as well as the crispy BBQ "pork belly" and the spicy vegetarian chicken skewers.
Pictured at the top are the "fish" fritters ($5.95 for four pieces). Each bite is a wonderful mix of different crispy textures: the cucumber at the bottom, the crunchy strip of fake fish (that does not taste at all fishy), and the toasted walnut with a Grand Marnier sauce. In fact, the dish is remarkably well balanced all around. The hardest part was eating it; the fish is balanced precariously on that cucumber and falls off almost as soon as you pick it up.
The citrus "beef" on a stick ($2.95 for two) is more one-note, but pretty good. The soy protein has a mild beefy flavor, and the citrus glaze is not overly sweet and has a subtle spiciness that creeps up the back of your throat. In addition, there's the genuine thrill of eating something other than a vegetable off of a stick. That may not sound like much, but for us vegetarians there's not much out there.
The crispy soyskin drumsticks ($3.95 for two) also features a stick. The soybean skins are wrapped around the stick and then the drumstick is deep fried so that the outside is crunchy, while the interior remains moist and chewy. It is a bit unsettling when you first bite into it and your teeth encounter the stick, but once you get past that, you'll be nibbling the remaining bits of "skin" off of the "bone". The savory "chicken" is nicely paired with the best quality sweet duck sauce I've ever tasted (meaning very good, but still duck sauce). Hardly authentic Chinese cuisine, but quite good nonetheless.
Fake meat products are not for everyone. Sometimes non-vegetarians ask why we would want to eat fake meat, but that question has always confused me. Many of us did not make the choice because we don't like the taste of meat, but because we have ethical problems with the meat industry or moral problems with the thought of eating animals. Home on 8th caters to those of us who want the experience of Chinese street food but don't want to give up our ideals.
Home on 8th
391 8th Ave # A New York, NY 10001 (map)
About the author: Howard Walfish is a Virginia native who has been living in New York since 2003. He is, in fact, a vegetarian, and is the co-founder of Brooklyn-based Eat to Blog.