Merlion Noodle and Rice is a restaurant that specializes in the cuisine of Malaysia and Singapore. Since I am a vegetarian who has never eaten the food from these countries, I decided to head up Clintonville to see what they serve to those who like to eat food without a face.
The cuisine of Singapore and Malaysia is an interesting hodge podge that combines influences from the cultures that surround them. There are Chinese, Indonesian and Indian elements to dishes, and they can be rooted in some or all of these cuisines.
There are not a tremendous amount of vegetarian dishes at Merlion. There are five vegetarian appetizers, which include vegetable spring rolls, tofu nuggets, sesame tofu, edamame and fried eggplant. There is one vegetarian entree on the dinner menu. The hot plate tofu is prepared with pork. There are a number of traditional Chinese tofu dishes on the lunch menu.
The fried eggplant is prepared with a delightful breading that is thick and soft yet delightfully crunchy. The thick pieces of eggplant soak up the sweet and sour dipping sauce.
The clay pot tofu is a traditional preparation of tofu and Chinese vegetables in a mild brown sauce. The triangles of tofu are tossed with onions, carrots, baby corn, water chestnuts and bok choy. The dish is slow cooked in an oven in an adorable Hello, Kitty clay pot.
The slow cooking gives the tofu a crisp exterior with a soft interior. The vegetables are steamed during the cooking process. The bok choy in particular has a great texture that walks a fine line between supple and crunchy. The sauce has a nice flavor, but it could benefit from a little more seasoning or a greater reduction.
The restaurant is small. It seats about 20. The staff is friendly. They speak English as a second language, so obtaining information about ingredients in dishes requires persistence.
The house-made beverages at Merlion are excellent. The soy milk has a round, clean flavor. The ginger tea is bright and herbaceous.
While there isn't a tremendous amount of vegetarian food at Merlion, the fresh ingredients combined with exotic flavors make it definitely worth a second look.