Thursday, August 16, 2012

Restaurant Review - Araya's Place

Recently, I had the pleasure of visiting my aunt at her lovely apartment in the heart of Bellevue, Washington. I was absolutely thrilled to visit Bellevue and even more excited to try an adorable little vegan Thai restaurant called Araya's Place.

In Portland, decent Thai restaurants are a dime a dozen and almost all of them have vegan options, so I was a little skeptical that this strictly vegan eatery could be that impressive - but I'd heard race reviews so naturally I had to give it a try.

I was blown away.

Boasting a HUGE vegan menu, I was overwhelmed by the amount of delicious sounding options, fresh ingredients and perfectly paired little wine list. Not to mention the decor of the place is totally comfortable, warm and inviting.

After many bouts of picking up the menu, deciding on one thing, putting the menu down, only to pick it back up again and change my mind, my aunt and I decided on a few winning dishes:

To start: Veggie Satay.

I like to select simple appetizers in vegan restaurants because I figure, if you are really going to succeed as a vegan restaurant, you better be able to make a simple, vegetable based appetizer well. And Araya's gave me faith from the appetizer-get-go.

Paired with a light and perfectly seasoned little cucumber salad and a smooth, creamy peanut sauce, the vegetable satay was seasoned and grilled to absolute perfection. A perfect combo of garden veggies (broccoli, zucchini, carrots, onions, bell peppers, eggplant, mushrooms) laid over a bed of spinach, I was immediately impressed by the presentation, flavor and quality of our first dish.

And let me tell you, it only got better from there.

What first impressed me when they brought the entrees out was the rice. We selected brown rice and, normally in Asian food restaurants, I expect brown rice will simply be the slightly more fibrous (but still relatively flavorless and limp) sister to the white rice alternative and that I won't be particularly keen to fill my plate with it. Not at Araya's. When the rice arrived it was colorful, flavorful and perfectly fluffy.

The rice really just added to the whole experience of Araya's and was a perfect complement to the two lovely dishes we ordered to share.

First we decided the Avocado Curry after seeing a couple of our fellow diners try it (Avocado, seitan, soft & fried tofu, bell pepper and basil in green curry). The curry did NOT photograph nearly as well as I would have liked but it tasted and looked soooo good.

See? Doesn't look that pretty. But it was. Pretty and delicious.

This curry was one of the most unique and flavorful curries I have ever tried. I absolutely loved the texture of the avocado paired with the seitan - a sort of meaty, hearty flavor that can be difficult to find in vegan dishes. Plus I love that this dish packs in healthy oils and a punch of protein while still tasting healthy and fresh. 

Next we ordered "Araya's Asparagus" which consisted of seitan, ginger, asparagus, portobello + shiitake mushrooms. 

This was probably my favorite dish. Arayr's chefs really know how to cook vegetables (a lost art at many Thai restaurants) and the house made seitan was absolutely superb. Pair those two things with a wonderfully flavored sauce and beautiful presentation and it is easy to see why this dish is a house favorite.

Overall, the Araya's experience exceeded my expectations and is absolutely worth a visit if you are in the Seattle/Bellevue area (there are two locations!! One in Seattle and one in Bellevue!) I especially recommend bringing a meat-eating friend here because I am confident the flavors and textures will surpass any that they have come to expect from other Thai restaurants.

For the menu, info about the restaurant and directions to each of the locations, check out Araya's website:

Oh--two more things I forgot to mention. Araya's has an in-house vegan bakery that whips up delicious sounding baked goods like Salted Caramel Bars, Banana Chai Cake and Matcha Chocolate Chip Cookies.

We were far too full to indulge in any of these delights but they sounded and looked absolutely amazing. Something to look forward to next time!

Also - Araya's has a lunch buffet SEVEN DAYS A WEEK for $8.99 which would likely be far too overwhelming for me to handle if I lived near it so at this point I'm glad I have my distance.

This place is a GO so text time you are in Washington, make the trip. You won't be disappointed in Araya's.

Live long and prosper. And don't be afraid to judge a restaurant by the quality of their vegetables.

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