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Medicine Eatstation

Zen Eats

Medicine Eatstation is a study in contrasts. The location is in the midst of the financial district in the Crocker Galleria, yet the restaurant floats tranquilly above the hustle and bustle. The interior is minimalist and stark, yet refined. While based on the food of Japanese Zen Buddhist monks, the "New-Shojin" restaurant features a sophisticated selection of sake. The food is meant to support "enlightenment" and eschews the use of garlic and onion, yet sometimes the flavors are intense and provocative.

Though sincere in wishing you “loving-kindness to your body” the omnipresent communal bench seating may prove challenging to those with back problems. Compared to other vegetarian options, portions are small or prices are on the high side, depending upon how you view things. Then again, a high level of care clearly goes into every freshly prepared dish.

Some of the most impressive dishes can be found under "appetizers" and "salads". The Maiitake Tempura ($5.50) is sure to be a crowd pleaser. Light and crisp coated meaty mushrooms are perfectly enhanced by a squeeze of citrus and a sprinkle of salt. For tofu lovers, the Sesame "Tofu" will also delight. The kudzu thickened sesame milk is gelatinous and creamy with the richness of tahini-like sesame and none of its bitterness. Jade Nuggets, a tempura of natto-filled shiso leaves, biting with mustard (and greasy) is more of an acquired taste.

Every salad we tried was unusual yet dazzling. The greens are always perfectly dressed and topped with delectable combinations of fruits and nuts like grapefruit and cashews or candied pine nuts and sugarplum tomatoes. The Sesame Lotus-Shiitake ($8) is composed of delicately sliced layers of woodear and shitake mushrooms, crisp juicy slices of lotus root and sweet apple all dressed in a creamy sesame dressing with a refreshing garnish of flat leaf parsley.

Entrees vary with the seasons and are more of a mixed bag. Under the heading "Broiled" Abalone Shiitake ($16.50) is a shiitake cap filled with a creamy tofu mixture but the flavor speaks of the sea and peppery spice. On the side, wax beans are served in a mustard flavored "shark" sauce with succulent summer squash. Accompanying this are a bowl of red rice and a mountain of daikon and cucumber as well as some pickled vegetables, making for an outstanding and memorable dish.

Compared to the Abalone Shiitake, the Dobin Mushi ($21) was a tiny portion; three slices of soggy and bland seitan were topped with just a few shreds of matsutake mushroom and a chewy slice of kombu. The pile of sea beans and purslane was dressed in a too salty dressing and neither was tender enough to be served raw. The cold tofu was mild and the texture rustic, not at all refined.

Desserts, each about $4, are of the less sweet variety. A Green Tea Tofu is reminiscent of chocolate: a dark green cube is cold, slightly acrid and grainy but pleasantly satisfying and refreshing just the same. Coconut Soup is filled with challenging textures of rubbery silver ear mushrooms and jelled cubes of kutan in a chilled sweet coconut cream.

A word about service: a 17% service charge is included and no additional tipping is allowed. While service is typically good, because this style of cuisine is unfamiliar to most patrons more guidance is generally necessary. With multiple courses, plates for sharing and even suggestions for which utensils to use would be welcome. It wasn't until after our appetizers that we learned the spoons set out were for the tofu appetizer. However, servers are more than happy to provide information upon request.

Japanese, Vegetarian

Reservations Essential? No