A vegan friend recommended that I try out Woochi Japanese Fusion and Bar in South Bend. The restaurant is in a downtown urban location on West Washington Street. It is an expansive space, with the bar alongside the front and back sections of the restaurant. Only open since November 2014, the place definitely has an up-to-date, modern appeal. The lighting in this venue is particularly stylish, specifically the lamps at the reception, hanging pendants at the tables, and the wall panels at the bar with color-changing pinpoint lights. The menu is extensive, with at least three separate booklets each for food, wines, and cocktails/desserts. The food menu has nearly 20 sections, from appetizers to side orders; luckily for us, one of these sections lists vegan entrees.
We started with drinks, and I chose Dragon Lady (Skyy, dragon berry, Triple Sec, orange juice, and a little lime) while Shankar chose a rather distinctive wheat-raspberry beer. Both drinks were delicious! The kitchen appetizer menu included many items that are vegan — edamame, agedashi tofu, harumaki, vegetable tempura, veggie gyoza. We went with the harumaki, a vegetable roll served with Thai-style sauce. So the first course of our dinner was a stellar moment that anticipated the entrees.
Following the advice of my friend, I chose the teriyaki eggplant — eggplant chunks served with garlic sauce, with fried rice; Shankar chose the bean curd country style — “Fresh bean curd lightly fried, then sautéed with Chinese cabbage, carrot and snow pea pod in hot spicy brown sauce.”
These dishes took just a little bit too long to arrive, but when they did, they were freshly cooked on a “hot sizzling plate” as promised. I did tuck into the eggplant with relish to begin with; definitely it was savory and tasty. However, before too long, the texture of the dish became unappealing. Eggplant can easily get viscous, or dare I say, it can be slimy. It can also hold and release a lot of oil, as it did with this dish. Fortunately, as we were sharing our food, the country style bead curd gave me the needed respite with a more substantial chewy texture. The bean curd was flavorful and spicy. We ate all of the bean curd, but we doggie-bagged almost half of the eggplant dish.
As in some of the previous restaurants, there were no vegan options for desserts. This is so unfortunate, especially when restaurants such as Woochi recognize vegans by having a whole entrée section for us. If they think vegans don’t eat desserts then let me dispel that notion right now — we do!
Woochi had some other dishes that I might like to try the next time around, so I have not exhausted the possibilities. In addition, my waitperson told me about Zing Japanese Fusion in Mishawaka, which has almost the same menu. Indeed, as Zing has been open for three years — it is the predecessor to Woochi.
One aspect of the décor at Woochi gave me pause. Immediately behind me was a row of fish tanks on the wall. For some of the larger fish, each tank was hardly more than a few lengths of their own bodies. Ultimately, veganism is not a diet, but a whole new vision encompassing justice for all animals (humans included). As a vegan I don’t exploit animals for food, and neither do I enjoy décor or entertainment using imprisoned animals. Seeing those animals was difficult for me because I began to empathize with their plight.
Aside from that down note, the Woochi atmosphere and food presentation is new and exciting. There are multiple options for vegans and the two locations, Woochi and Zing, also give vegans some flexibility.