Open just 10 months, MiLah is already creating quite a stir. MiLah is an Indian Buddhist (Maitreya) word that, according to the restaurant’s Web site, denotes nature, harmony, happiness and kindness.
Despite its name, MiLah is not an Asian restaurant. The menu reflects influences from all over the world, from warm cauliflower poivre, which has a French influence, to the Greek-inflected butternut squash moussake to the good old American barbeque tofu.
One of the things that distinguishes MiLah, according to the chef, is the lack of fake or “mock” meat. They create all the dishes using just vegetables, procured mostly from local farmers. And they use spices from around the world obtained from specialty shops in New York City.
We started our meal with the carrot and celery soup ($6). A smooth purée served warm, it had a little bite to it and a nice contrast of sweet and tangy flavors. I commented that it tasted a bit like tomato soup. My vegan expert, Mario, informed me that carrot and tomato, when prepared right, could be very similar.
We also tried the soup of the day ($6), a coconut soup made with coconut milk and soy milk. Also warmed, this was a sultry, subtle broth — frothy and light with just a hint of the coconut taste.
We then ordered from the salad listings. A twist on a Cambodian pad thai, we got the green mango, green papaya, cilantro and dried seitan salad ($7). The salad was a large platter of shredded mangos and papayas. The zingy and aromatic dish came dressed with a spicy tamarind sauce and was topped with dried seitan, which, ever health conscious, Mario remarked was a great way to get a little extra protein in your system.
I ordered the bronzed king coconut mushroom with fresh lime ($5). This was the vegan version of coconut shrimp, and let me tell you, I didn’t miss the little legged ocean creatures one bit. This was a best bet — crunchy without being greasy and surprisingly filling.
For my main entrée, I had the African peanut stew with chickpeas, sweet potato and carrots in a tomato curry sauce ($15). The stew was also flavored with a little jalapeño, pepper, celery and ginger. The ingredients mixed cohesively to create a spirited dish that pleased the taste buds.
For his part, Mario ordered the popular Cambodian amok with spinach, Chinese eggplant and tofu in coconut lemongrass sauce ($15). It’s called popular amok because it is one of the favorite dishes in Cambodia. The chef had recently taken a trip to several countries to check out dishes and he did a good job. This one was popular with me as well; in fact I think it was my favorite for the evening. The tofu was imported from Taiwan and was of a different texture and consistency from what I’ve had in the past: It wasn’t spongy or soggy and held up both on the fork and in the mouth. We both thought we tasted a hint of ginger in the dish, but our chef informed me that it was actually kalanka, a zesty spice from Thailand. The little kick it had was from sun-dried chilies imported from Thailand.
We wound up our trip with a fresh fruit tart from the dessert menu ($5). I love a good fruit tart and have been known to ask for it in lieu of a birthday cake, but these days they usually seem to have a synthetic aftertaste. Not so this vegan dessert. It was light and flaky with fresh fruit and a delicious custard filling (though I’m told there was no milk involved).
I haven’t given up on meat all together, primarily because I don’t have the culinary skills possessed by the kitchen at MiLah. If I were able to cook veggies that were this filling and delectable every day, I might have a change of heart. Lucky for them, I don’t have that talent - so I’ll just have to go back.