Calvin Soh, owner of Su, is a vegetarian most of the time. But all of the time he is a businessman and trend spotter. He owns a construction and design firm in Fort Lee that has done boutiques for Dolce & Gabbana and Fendi. He designed Su himself.
“These riverside towns are extremely sophisticated,” says the 38-year-old Brooklyn-raised Montvale resident, speaking of Bergen County’s East Side. “A lot of residents moved from the city and don’t want to give up any perks of urban life.”
One of these, Soh feels, is healthy, tasty vegetarian cuisine, especially as served at Manhattan’s long-running Zen Palate. The parents of Soh’s wife, Deborah, were longtime chefs at Zen Palate’s Union Square flagship, and the Shanghai-born chef who Soh hired for Su, William Ge, also cooked in vegetarian kitchens in Manhattan.
Su’s inviting contemporary interior flaunts Mondrian-like geometric wall panels, in white with rousing touches of red and brown. A soundtrack of jazz, samba, and worldbeat tunes bathes the dining room. With its booths, its warmth, and its menu focusing on small plates, Su is a hybrid—a friendly, old-time diner repurposed for a hip, fashionable clientele.
The food is fun. Chef Ge’s reinterpreted Vietnamese “summer rolls” are bright with jicama and mint. Aromatic Thai red curry, slow-cooked in an earthenware pot, is lusciously thick, with the tropical aroma and taste of coconut milk. Singapore-style stir-fried noodles possess a smoky, almost barbecue-like tang. Chef Ge’s Chinese dishes are traditionally brown-sauced, with hits of sweet hoisin and hot pepper.
Instead of chicken, pork, or beef, Ge tosses in his wok what the menu prosaically calls “braised soy cutlets” or “whole wheat seitan.” Take it from this carnivore: blindfolded, you can hardly tell the difference between cleverly prepared soy and animal proteins. Su manages to make TVP (texturized vegetable protein) alluring.
There’s a fine, if not particularly fruity, orange-spiced guacamole; an earthy mushroom risotto and a generously cheesy eggplant parmigiana; plus crackly Indian roti bread and a Malaysian curry. Su’s intriguing flatbread starter—a “small plate” midway in size between Su’s appetizers and entrées—comes loaded with melted Gruyère and Parmesan, plus mushrooms, olives, and sun-dried tomatoes.
Not everything rises above the ordinary. A spinach pistachio roll—a pan-fried wrap filled with chopped spinach, pistachios, mushrooms, mashed potato, and mushroom purée—was ill-conceived, dull as an old Whole Earth Catalog. The dish needs a take-charge ingredient, whether garlic, chipotle, or smoked TVP.
Pad Thai noodles were bland; mushroom basmati rice was mushy. Luckily, Su’s underperformers benefit from the house dipping sauces, including an addictive peanut puree and a kitchen-made chili paste—not the usual vinegary Vietnamese-style bottled hot sauce.
Dessert, too, tapered off. I tasted run-of-the-plantation fried sweet banana chunks and doughy profiteroles. House-made ice cream was not available when I visited. Nonetheless, you won’t sue me if you visit Su. Vegetarian restaurants are often about making do with less. But Su doesn’t shortchange the senses.Click here to leave a comment