Restaurant Review: Tiengarden

170 Allen Street
(between Stanton Street and Rivington Street)
Lower East Side, Manhattan

Vegiboys Rating (2.5/4)

Allen Street has undergone a gradual evolution over the past decade, going from a stretch of cheap and quick Chinatown eateries to a more gentrified series of pricier and swankier venues. Even the once seedy park space running along the center of street is now filled with hipster-occupied benches and participatory modern art.

Tiengarden sits on the fence between those two worlds, hybridizing Asian-themed cuisine with a New Age-style consciousness towards their ingredients. The menu assures that their food is all-natural (no MSG, artificial colorings, or preservatives). The simple décor, although similar to that found in any neighborhood Chinese restaurant, is joined by an informational bulletin board explaining the many benefits of particular vegetables. The walls also have plenty of posted announcements that demonstrate Tiengarden’s efforts to transcend being merely a restaurant, with everything from cooking classes to meditation gatherings all held on-site (though no bathroom for customers, so come prepared).

The menu is respectably diverse (though very much Asian-inspired), and even offers an “i-Dish” option in an appeal to the Mac generation (you can create your own dish based on your appetite and mood, choosing for a selection of ingredients, sauces, and toppings). While tempting, we decided to order from their core menu to feel out the kitchen’s creative strength.

We both selected Santa Cruz organic sodas from the fridge (I went with a root beer and Brian had a gingerale).

For our meal, we started with steamed burdock root dumplings, which (although we enjoyed them) derived most of their taste from the soy sauce dip. A bowl of edamame was similarly unsurprising – perfectly prepared for those who prefer their vegetables without salt or spice.

This simplicity carried into the entrées. Their signature Tiengardener’s Delight held an impressive variety of veggies: shitake and wood ear mushrooms, daikon radish, carrots, greens – all good ingredients, but there was nothing else to the dish. Some might prefer the rare opportunity to experience vegetables unadulterated with spice or oils, but I unfortunately found the blend to be bland without a bit of doctoring.

More flavor could be found in Brian’s Curry Peanut Lover’s meal. Soy slices, mushrooms, pepper and broccoli were blended into a cohesive dish. However, without any effort at spicing yet again, the plate’s only voice was the monotone flavor of the peanut sauce.

Vegetables often can speak for themselves, but they still require appropriate treatment to create a memorable dish (think roasted brussel sprouts or grilled corn). Tiengarden cooks with a wonderfully varied set of vegetables, but in an effort to provide an unfiltered experience through overly cautious cooking techniques, the tastes fall flat. The meal was $21 each, and we simply weren’t excited enough by anything we sampled to really feel a strong value from the restaurant.

Food (2.5/4)

Atmosphere & Service

Value (2.5/4)

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