On the menu, Red Bank's Eurasian Eatery promises to "orient you with a new concept in eating."
But I wasn't getting my hopes up.
Dining out as a vegetarian, I've perfected the art of surviving on few options. A salad here, a veggie burger there, and, if I'm lucky, an occasional side order of potatoes.
As my lunch companion and I entered the small, cozy restaurant, we were cordially welcomed by an eager, smiling staff, who told us we could seat ourselves wherever we'd like.
After finding a nice spot in the corner of the restaurant, it was literally seconds before we were greeted by a jovial young waitress looking to take our drink orders.
Fully prepared to get my usual, the words "ice water" had no sooner left my mouth than I noticed the horrified look on my companion's face. I couldn't imagine what horrible mistake I had made so early into our outing. What could possibly be so offensive about a glass of water with a couple of ice cubes floating in it?
After giving the waitress a look hinting that I might need a high-chair, my companion proceeded to usurp my drink order with brazen confidence.
"He meant to say he wants a fruited ice tea," she said to the waitress.
My apparently much wiser companion then looked back at me.
"Believe me," she said. "The only complaint you'll have here is that you can't order fruited iced tea by the pitcher."
Trusting her judgment, I gave up on the ice water, and began to scope out the menu in front of me.
Unlike many restaurants, which tend to offer many of the same "popular favorites," nothing on this menu was anything like I had seen anywhere else.
The Eurasian is by no stretch a strictly vegetarian restaurant. The menu offers a selection that, regardless of dietary allegiance, is vast, unique and enticing.
A few dishes that immediately stood out were the Malaysian Game Hen, which comes served in a mild curry sauce with brown rice pilaf, for $10.95, and the sausage and dumpling primavera, served with eggplant, tomato, green peppers, onions, cheese, dumplings, and polish sausage, for $9.95.
The restaurant also serves seafood dishes that include sole, snapper, shrimp and scallops.
Of course, I was most impressed with the Eurasian's offering of meatless entrees and appetizers. I was quickly overwhelmed by my options, including the Crimean Curried Lasagna, which had eggplant, tofu, broccoli, pasta and cheese; the Eurasian Pierogi Saute, a serving of dumplings filled with spinach, carrot, truffle and water chestnut and served with sauteed onions; and the Cassoulet St. Moritz, a combination of spinach, mushrooms, onions, haricot beans and cheese, served with sauteed dumplings. Each of these costs only $8.95, and were equally whetting my appetite.
Before I had time to decide, our waitress was back with our drinks, and was ready to take our order. My stalwart companion wasted no time, confidently ordered Florentine Spinach Alfredo Dumplings, which cost $8.95.
The pressure was now on me. I had never had this much freedom at a nonvegetarian restaurant before. I stopped thinking and went with my gut, knowing the first thing out of my mouth would be what my heart craved the most.
I ordered a veggie burger.
As our waitress walked off, my companion looked at me in disbelief. She couldn't believe I cracked so easily. I looked away in shame and quickly threw back my iced tea.
By the time our waitress had arrived with our dinners, we had each ordered two more of the delicious concoctions, which contain fresh fruit and a few secret ingredients the tight-lipped staff refused to divulge.
As my friend and I prepared to dig in, I checked the clock. From the time she and I had entered the restaurant, to the time we received our food, it had been less than 10 minutes. Not bad considering it was late afternoon and the restaurant was quickly filling.
The waitress handed us our dinners, and I noticed her mistake immediately. What was in front of me wasn't what I had ordered. No limp, soggy bun. No greenish-yellow veggie paste. If this was a vegetarian hamburger, it was unlike any I had seen.
The burger patty was served alongside a chick pea falafel that was stuffed with lettuce, tomato, and onions. As I spooned pieces of the burger into the falafel, and proceeded to drench them in what the waitress refered to only as Green Goddess Sauce, I realized that for only $6.50, this veggie "burger" was no mistake.
My friend and I then shared plates. She ate half of my veggie falafel burger, and I ate most of her Florentine dumplings, which were smothered in quite possibly the thickest, creamiest Alfredo Sauce this side of the Mediterranean.
After a sharing a $2 pot of Dutch Chocolate Almond coffee, we paid our tab and were quickly on our way. We said nothing, quietly content in the fact the Eurasian Eatery, one of Red Bank's finest hidden treasures, indeed made good on its promise.
(Editor's note: This review was originally written in 2005, before Steve's slipshod regression back to the ways of a hedonistic carnivore)