Green Bowl is a fun Asian Fusion restaurant with a twist. I am told it is a lot like a Mongolian BBQ Grill. Thinking that my readership is vegetarian I will assume that you also do not know what that is and will describe it to be like a salad bar style set up where you leave your bowl filled with chosen veggies to watch them cook it on a huge shared grill. You might think of the many obvious problems with a shared grill and cross contamination from other customer’s meat choices but Green Bowl has a great system to make sure every diner is suited so read on!
When you enter the right of the 2 doors at 131 W. Beaver Ave., State College, you might wonder why the one is locked. The restaurant as it is now was originally 2 different stores, the entrance you use was the old location of Svoboda’s where I bought some of my first vegetarian cookbooks in the 80s. The old wood floor has taken a beating and the walls have been painted bright green since the mid 1980′s when the main space was a short-lived upscale vegetarian restaurant that may have been named Croney’s and was later Irving’s. What was counter seating is now the open area that surrounds the big flat grill where you can watch the cooks frying up everyone’s creations.
Bright and open but sometimes noisy this popular spot draws many from the downtown businesses and nearby university. You can feel comfortable dressing casually. As a note to theater goers or business lunchers, because of the open grill area your clothes might come away with a bit of a fried food smell that drifts through the seating area.
Kids who are old enough to appreciate dining salad bar style will love to be able create their own meals and watch them being cooked. I am sure those younger than that can have a great meal too but I am not sure if the price, which is set for eat as much as you care to, would be worth it.
The moment you plop down onto the padded seat at one of the 20 black lacquer tables, your wait staff will firstly ask if you have been to Green Bowl before. Newbies are never treated as though teaching them the procedure is a waste of time. It’s explained how the numbered popsicle stick each customer is given at their table will make sure the meal they have created will be returned to the right person. You may also choose white or brown rice to go with your stir fry/ soup/ or wrap.
If you are a vegetarian, you can tell your waitress and she will scribe a “V” onto your stick so that your meal will be cooked separately from the main grill and eliminating the chance of other patron’s meat selections getting flicked into your selection of veggies.
S/he will also tell you that upon making it to the point where you leave your bowl at the grill area, there will be a few cups of differently colored sticks. Many are animal flesh choices (chickens, shrimps, cows, pigs) but do not totally ignore them. This is where is you want a vegetable soup broth or a wrap that you will choose a colored stick to alert the cook to that.
When the wait staff gives you the go ahead to start to create your bowl of green goodness, take a tip from BiNaH (Bacon is NOT an Herb) and look to see if there is a line. If there is and you mind standing use this moment to read over all of the sauce choices. You can do this while you stand in line too since the colorful chalk board is at the start of the veggie selection area.
A vegetarian needs to be aware that a few of the sauce selections are not vegetarian – NOTE, they have them listed as not “VEGAN” but they aren’t vegetarian either. The current sauces to avoid are Bourbon BBQ (has beef), Oyster Sauce (oysters), Brown Bowl (oysters and Worcestershire) and Golden Curry. Golden Curry was new and not even on their ingredients and allergy list (just ask to see it). See photo for other cool sauce choices and amount suggestions or check out the other chalk board for staff suggested sauce combinations – FUN!
Next are some extra items like Peanuts, Edamame, Noodles (Rice/Glass/Egg), Eggs, Minced Garlic, Cilantro and Parsley. Then you get to dip into the sauces. I chose 1 Orange Ginger, 1/2 Italian, 1 Peanut, 1/4 Sesame Oil and 1/8 Super Hot sauce ladles. That adds up to about 3 ladles full of sauce for a big bowl of veggies and tofu.
It is after the sauces where you are instructed to leave your bowl for the next cooking process. Between the sticks for Soup/Wrap/Flesh choices (you don’t have to choose ANY) and the rack of seasonings (Wasabi Sesame Seeds, Emeril’s BAM and Chinese 5 Spice amongst them) you slide your bowl into the cue.
In the winter you can choose from bagged Twining Teas to warm you up. In the summer a nice iced tea or Coke products can be had. For at least the past year they have also been offering breakfasts but since the menu is different and I am unfamiliar with it I will not include that in this review.
For being a restaurant that serves meat, this is about as vegetarian friendly as you can get. You pick exactly what goes into your bowl and can see it cooked away from meat products by a friendly and knowledgeable staff. Non-vegetarian items are marked and the staff is ready to make sure every dietary concern is met. Some folk’s reviews of Green Bowl have balked at the prices but it is worth every penny for fresh, unprocessed food. No Wi-Fi and Majic radio station as the music of choice don’t help the atmosphere but you almost don’t notice because the food is so good. Not to encourage wastefulness but if you don’t like what you got, make another bowl with different ingredients.