I feel like a really bad vegetarian for not patronizing Mi Lah, an all vegan restaurant in Center City that opened October 2008, sooner than now, but, you know, Philly has lots of great eats to tick off my list. What's a girl to do? Complimentary bread and herbed butter started us out.
Then we received a huge plate of fried coconut crusted King mushrooms garnished with lime and cilantro. We really enjoyed the sweet coconut crust and meaty mushroom starter. This dish would be perfectly suited as a fried bar food, and we were wishing for a special dipping sauce. We behaved and ate the appetizer with a fork, since we weren't at a bar.
Going with the server's suggestion of their favorite dishes, we ordered the cauliflower au poivre with fried sweet potatoes, and spinach salad in cream sauce. This dish is a whimsical take on steak, fries, and salad, with the cauliflower slab being the steak, the fried sweet potatoes being the fries, and the spinach, obviously, the salad.
A longer roasting, or maybe a dunk in the fryer, would have taken some of the rawness and crunch from the cauliflower and imparted a sweeter caramelized flavor. The fat sweet potato fries are not visible, but are underneath the pile of spinach with sweet, creamy dressing. Perhaps due to the thickness of the fries, or the soaking in dressing, the sweet potatoes were not as crunchy as they could have been. This dish, unfortunately, is a victim of poor plating. By simply not piling all the components of the dish atop each other, Mi Lah could have maybe avoided soggy sweet potatoes, and even added a little color from the orange sweet potato fries to the presentation.
Pistachio gratin with roasted butternut squash and brussels sprouts in a lemon beurre blanc was comforting and warm, with the vegetables being cooked to the perfect tenderness and the peppery sauce plate-licking good. Little crunchy bits of pistachio added a nice textural contrast to the layers of potatoes.
Who here loves Pepperige Farm 3-Layer Cakes? I do! (Even if that Cake Fart girl did ruin my associations with the dessert. Yeah, go back and check the video. That's a Pepperidge Farm 3-Layer Cake.) Mi Lah's vegan chocolate cake with chocolate ganache frosting tastes like a vegan version of Pepperidge Farm cakes, so while it tastes kind of boxed, I absolutely loved it. The chocolate sauce was a little thin, though.
Mi Lah frequently gets compared to Philly's other fine dining, and highly lauded, all-vegan restaurant, Horizons, but I'm not ready to compare the two. My meal at Mi Lah was good enough to return and sample some more, especially since my partner has had two positive experiences at Mi Lah during lunch.
The dinner entree prices were a buck or two higher than I felt they should have been, but the fact that Mi Lah is BYOB more than evens out the bill. Next time, I will probably return to Mi Lah for the cheaper lunch menu featuring sandwiches and flat breads not available on the dinner menu.
And, if you're a fan of the huge weekend brunch, Mi Lah has a $20 prix fixe Sunday brunch that includes a cup of tea or coffee, a plate of fruit with muffins and scones, a pitcher of one of their fruit juices or mimosa mix (remember to bring your own champagne), plus a choice of a brunch main from the menu. Sounds like a lot of food (and a bargain) to me!
And, try to get get seated upstairs, if you can. While similarly decorated as the downstairs, the upstairs dining room is larger and airier with a more pleasant feeling.
218 S. 16th St., Philadelphia, PA 19102
Lunch: Mon-Sat, 11am-3pm
Dinner: Mon-Sat, 5pm-10pm
Brunch: Sun, 11am-3pm