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Indochine: Worthy Substitute for Sunflower 

Wednesday, Jan 21 2015
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If you're sad that cheap-but-tasty Sunflower wilted and closed recently, take heart: A new place called Indochine has blossomed in the space next door. Though it's owned by the same folks, Indochine is a step up from Sunflower: clean, pretty, and inviting, with one wall covered in a '70s-esque purple flower pattern, white globe lights shedding soft light on the simple wood tables, and fairy lights twinkling in back. The servers are attentive and friendly, and, for now at least, the noise level is low.

Indochine serves vegan cuisine, all of it Asian, and most of it fairly healthy. You can have fried wonton and spring rolls, but there are also good-for-you options like fresh spring rolls and mango salad. Soups (hot-and-sour, Korean tofu), noodles (pho, chow mein, and chow fun), clay pot, and bibimbap share a menu with entrees like lemongrass vegan "chicken" and yellow curry. There's even a funny little Western section that offers vegan fish and chips and a "tuna" sandwich.

On a recent chilly San Francisco evening, a friend and I shared the Korean-style tofu soup, which was mildly spicy and brimming with crumbled tofu, broccoli, zucchini, carrots, mushrooms, and cabbage. Our entree, Vietnamese fragrant clay pot rice, was so good that both of us continued scooping up forkfuls long after we were full.

The clay pot is uncovered to reveal a huge mound of sizzling rice topped with vermicelli, strips of soy protein, slightly sweet shiitake mushrooms, black fungus, and Napa cabbage; cilantro is scattered over the top. You toss all of the ingredients, then drizzle with the condiments on the table: two types of chili sauce, diced chiles, and sweet soy. The rice had a good crispy crust, and while the dish lacked the caramelized sauce of a catfish clay pot, it did have an enticing fragrance, true to its name.

I'm guessing that Indochine will become a very popular spot; it offers quality vegan food at reasonable prices (entrees range from $10 to $12.50), an appealing dining room, and a location a few blocks from 16th Street BART. Sunflower still has a location on Potrero Hill, if you're missing it, but I'm glad a new place sprouted here.

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Julie Kramer

Julie Kramer

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