Restaurant Review: Loving Hut

Loving Hut
348 7th Avenue
(between 29th Street and 30th Street)
Chelsea, Manhattan

Vegiboys Rating (1.5/4)

Looking for a quick post-work meal, we visisted the Loving Hut, a sliver of a restaurant just a block south of Penn Station’s entrance. The place is small; maybe 10 feet across and 20 feet deep. Five 2-seater tables are fitted into this space, and the size and layout makes it feel like a counter-service lunch spot.

Such was that appearance, that we went ahead and placed our order at the counter while we waited for an open table. This also gave us some time to admire the confused décor: a video involving seals and volcanoes played on a television with subtitles in a dozen languages; inspirational quotes were painted on one wall; photos of random celebrity vegetarians adorned the opposite wall.

Which calls for a bit of background: the NYC Loving Hut is an independently-owned branch of an international chain of Loving Huts (mostly found in California, but with many international branches as well). The concept is the brainchild of Supreme Master Ching Hai, a Vietnam-born religious sect leader with a penchant for steering her religious views to fit with the latest trends. Best known for dabbling in U.S. politics by inadvertently damaging Bill Clinton’s legal defense campaign with her significant financial donations later found to have fiscal “irregularities,” her current attentions are focused on promoting vegetarianism for its environmental benefits.

So, setting aside that we once again found ourselves dining at a venue with its basis in religious eccentricity (we’re realizing that such places are abundant in NYC), how was our experience?

Our hostess, though providing some of the friendliest service we’ve encountered, seemed to be as malleable as the Supreme Master in the definition of her role. She managed the phones and took counter orders (both for take-out and sit-down). She also served as a waitress for the tables, taking orders from already seated patrons, running plates, refilling water, bussing tables.

The multi-tasking was far too much for our hostess to handle on her own, and despite the full service, patrons seemed unsure what to make of this all; few were leaving any tips. While we appreciated the gesture of her severe desire to keep us all content, moving to a counter-service-only format would fit the venue and its staffing well.

But on to the meal: to drink, I had a Boylan orange cream soda (always a pleasant option), and Brian went with a green tea gingerale.

We had the 7 piece happy dumplings to start as an appetizer. They were fine, but nothing exciting; very basic dumplings with a bland filling and soy sauce as a dip.

For the main, I went with a vegan burger served with chips. Edible, but nothing more; the burger was akin to the generic frozen patties purchasable from a Costco freezer, and the chips were straight off of a supermarket shelf. Brian’s fried tofu was also fine, but rather uncreative. It came with a small udon soup, which could not be undifferentiated in our minds with every Chinese food experience with udon soup we’ve had in the past. The tapioca dessert was nice, but our expectations weren’t exactly being heightened by that course of the meal.

The bill was around $21 each; too much for the venue or its offerings. All was barely satisfactory, and nothing was noteworthy.

The place has a lot of heart; the owners and staff are obviously client-oriented with a dedication to vegetarianism, but they need some tweaking to their execution. We need to see them define the scope of the Loving Hut: whether it be a cheaper, self-service quick-eats spot for generalized vegi-fast food fare, or a more realxed boutique restaurant with a narrower range of dishes that focus on creativity and taste. With an excellent location and a wonderful staff, giving the space a sharper focus would make us more apt to return for seconds.

Food (1.5/4)
Atmosphere & Service
Value (1/4)

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