Vegetarian Fare With a Korean Twist
By Eve Zibart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, Jan. 11, 2008
At first glance: This organic, socially conscious "eco cafe" could pass for any coffee shop/carryout in town, with its pretty standard dining bars along the front windows, tables squeezed down the middle and steel basins of sandwich ingredients. But the T-shirts and posters that adorn the walls of this tiny eatery promote fair-trade farming, animal-free products and solar and wind power. Java Green recently was named the nation's most progressive restaurant by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
On the menu: A glance at the menu (printed with soy ink) tells you the food is Korean: mandoo dumplings, kimchi, boolgogi, gimbob (the Korean term for sushi), bibimbob salad. But unless you read the fine print, you might not immediately realize that Java Green is a vegetarian/vegan establishment. Many non-vegan customers appreciate the menu's low-fat, low-cholesterol qualities. There is a range of meat substitutes: soy, tempeh or seitan (wheat gluten) versions of chicken, beef, turkey, sausage, bacon, shrimp and tuna as well as tofu. There are no egg dishes, but there are some dairy options, including cheese, milk and whipped cream. Java Green serves a Saturday brunch of vegan pancakes, French toast and waffles (11-3).
At your service: Order at one end of the counter, pay and pick up at the other. (If you're dining in, a server may try to deliver, but aisles are tight.) Korean hot chili sauce, a less spicy brown sauce and balsamic vinegar are in bottles on the counters. Java Green offers environmentally friendly containers for carryout; in-house meals are served in attractive pottery bowls.
On the table: Rice, noodles and many of the sandwiches tend to be on the bland side unless you make use of the sauces. The spicier dishes of Seoul chicken salad and ramen soup with kimchi broth are generally the most satisfying. Among the better wraps are the chili chicken with greens and cherry peppers and the tuna with sun-dried cranberries and almonds. Boolgogi, the surprisingly tasty seitan version of marinated beef, comes either in a panino or a bento box with fresh kimchi, yam cellophane noodles (jobche) and a large serving of the house's mixed-grain rice. Mandoo, four candy bar-size rectangles with a light scallion stuffing, are very good. The "drumsticks" are croquette-like minced chicken substitute molded on skewers. Fresh seaweed with radishes, cucumber and citrus juices puts to shame the supermarket agar-agar version. Fruits and vegetables, especially the avocado, are ripe.
What to avoid: The lunch rush. When all 24 seats are taken and another dozen or so customers are waiting for carryout orders, the staff can forget the pesto sauce or cut the panini grilling short. However, there are daily specials that will save you about a dollar off a rice bowl, soup or wrap.
Note that Java Green uses the office building's restrooms through a hallway door and a floor down, so wheelchair users may find the arrangement taxing.
Wet your whistle: In addition to a full assortment of coffee and espresso drinks (dairy or soy), Java Green offers fruit smoothies and frappes (made with coffee or green tea), a variety of teas, caffeine-free hot chocolate, lemonade and cider.