I wanted to eat here because it’s gotten lots of attention as a top vegetarian restaurant in Boston. I’m not a vegetarian but very much a veggie lover. Grasshopper is actually vegan, which means no meat, seafood, butter, eggs, or dairy of any kind. The menu offers pseudo-meats and seafood, fashioned from tofu, tempeh (pressed fermented soybeans), and seitan (wheat gluten), shaped and decorated to look like the real thing. The hectic corner location in remote Allston was a deterrent (but then a preplanned stop at the nearby beloved Clear Flour Bread quickly added incentive!). My friend and I dropped in on a Sunday night and entered an all green cozy-casual dining area adorned with photos of wild animals, a sort of affirmation for eating vegan. Business was great with every table filled and a constant flow of patrons getting take-out. However, we left with mixed feelings:
- Impressively large menu for such a restricted diet, with the majority of dishes containing nutrient-rich vegetables and tofu or soy derivatives.
- Inexpensive, very large portions with most entrees less than $10 and the most expensive being $13.95.
- Favorites: My friend enjoyed her Grilled Vegi-Chicken appetizer that had a hint of meat flavor and not-too-chewy texture served on a fresh salad with a sweet vinegar dressing. I liked the Sweet and Sour Vegetarian Dumplings that tasted like a comforting Pierogie. Interestingly the dumplings contained no vegetables, just soft tofu wrapped in dough. Some finely chopped vegetables would have added a nice texture.
- Creative-looking fake meats and seafood.
- Although I credit the chefs for those cute lookalikes, the soy just couldn’t carry the taste or texture of real meat and seafood; most had a rubbery or soggy/greasy texture.
- The menu copies traditional Americanized Chinese takeout, complete with strong MSG flavor and shiny cornstarch glaze, so the dishes ended up tasting pretty similar.
- Vegan doesn’t always mean more healthful, as seen with the many battered and deep-fried offerings. My BBQ roast pork appetizer was slippery with grease; certain pieces were excessively deep fried (if chicken-skin chips existed, they’d taste like this!).
- Most of the dishes we ordered were covered in a brown cornstarch glaze, which made for blah presentations and drowned out any potentially unique flavors in the ingredients.
I can see the appeal of Grasshopper to strict vegans who have limited food choices, but at the same time why would vegans who’ve sworn off animal products even want to eat something reminding them of meat? Instead of mock meats, why not call it true-blue tofu and decorate it into pretty flowers or butterflies? Furthermore, I wouldn’t classify Grasshopper as a healthful restaurant because of the heavy use of oil, batter, MSG, and sugar though it’s possible to get healthful entrees by interrogating the waitstaff and asking for modifications (steamed or grilled with less salt and no MSG). Overall, not bad vegetarian food, just not special enough to tempt a return visit.