Cafe Society

Sprout of This World

One more bean sprout, Jay, and I swear to God, I'm gonna shank someone."

I laughed. Not out loud, though, because Glen's threats aren't always idle. "You gotta trust me," I told him. "You'll like the place. And it's better than the bird food you've been eating lately."

Glen's doctor put him on a diet -- a very strict, red-meat-free, fat-free, low-cholesterol regime -- that's relegated him to eating nothing but, in his words, "grass clippings and ginger ale." And actually, it wasn't just one doctor, but three. After the first told Glen it was a medical miracle that his heart hadn't already exploded right out of his chest, he went to get a second opinion. Then a third. All three concurred that my buddy Glen was a goddamn dinosaur of a man -- a huge creature, angry and omnivorous, for whom the hourglass of evolution had long ago run out -- and that if he wanted to live to see the other side of fifty, he had to do something about his bad habits. All of them. And quickly.

"Fine," Glen said. "I'll give it a try. But I'm serious about that bean-sprout thing. You know what's happened since I started this diet?"

"You've become a happier, healthier, more well-adjusted man?" I ventured.

"No. I've put on three pounds. And you know why?"

"Why, Glen?"

"I ate a vegetarian. Thought it would be healthier than a cow."

Though I no doubt deserve them, I don't have Glen's health problems. My metabolism runs like a Japanese street bike tuned for racing and, thus far, all the terrible things I've done to desecrate the temple that is my body have yet to catch up with me. Whether it's good genes or just plain dumb luck, I don't know. Most of my friends see me as a standing testament to the possibilities of evil living, but to hedge my bets, I recently started jogging.

(Okay, not jogging exactly. I went out and bought all the stuff, tried it once, didn't much like it and stopped immediately. But the shoes are comfortable and make me look fast, even when I'm standing still.)

And standing there with Glen, I was thinking what a smart purchase those kicks had been, because we were going nowhere fast waiting for a table at Moongate Asian Grill. Although this itty-bitty, two-year-old Chinese/ Vietnamese/Japanese/Thai joint looks rather unassuming from the outside, it packs in the customers; plus, it does a booming take-out and delivery business. The dining area (which hardly qualifies as a room, because it only seats about twenty customers, providing none of them have extreme personal-space issues) is cheerful, bright and airy, with any possible claustrophobia alleviated by two full walls of windows. There are modern-art-style silhouette cutouts of happy people near the door, polished wooden waves hanging among the track lights, a palm tree and a giant backyard propane tiki-torch taking up floor space and plenty of culinary-themed Pier One clearance-rack decorating items, which include a candy-colored swordfish sculpture hung on the back wall with its sword pointed toward the kitchen doors, and a big smile on its face like it just can't wait for its chance in the pan.

"Stupid fish," Glen said, as we finally were able to wedge ourselves into the only available table -- a two-top pressed up against the windows. "The hell is he so happy about?"

In an attempt at winning my terminally grouchy friend over to the joys of healthy eating, I ordered edamame -- steamed soybeans in the pod. I love it when the menu at an Asian restaurant tries to give you advice along with the description of each dish. Here, the menu promised the edamame was "Packed with protein and fun to eat!" I pointed this out to Glen. He shrugged.

"Know what else is full of protein?" he asked, splitting a pod with his thumb and popping three tender, slightly nutty beans into his mouth. "A fucking steak."

"Yeah, but most of the time you can't eat steak with your fingers, Glen."

"You can if the cow is moving slow enough."

Whimsy never being his strong suit, Glen was clearly not enchanted by either the decor or the happy sounds coming from other diners. But then came the soup course. Miso for me, which Moongate does as a simple, subtly flavored broth clouded with miso, filled with cubes of squishy tofu and given an earthy depth by the addition of green seaweed. For him, it was the Thai hot-and-sour soup, with shrimp and Kaffir lime leaves (the bay leaf of Thai cuisine), shaved galanga root (often substituted for ginger in Thai cooking, though considerably more intense and also used as an aphrodisiac -- I didn't tell Glen about that last part) and a single note of lemongrass that lasered through every spoonful, tempering the hot spice. "You name it, it's there in this authentic Thai Tom Yum Goong soup," the menu had predicted, and it wasn't kidding. The soup had everything but the kitchen sink.

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Jason Sheehan
Contact: Jason Sheehan