Enjoy's spareribs ($8.50), braised with daikon and carrot, were a remarkable facsimile of beef. The chunks of dark-brown wheat gluten broke down into long, chewy strands seemingly held together with filaments of fat and gristle. But it wasn't the illusion of meat that most intrigued me about the dish — it was the sauce, which hinted at black mushroom, a little cinnamon, a pinch of sugar. It had richness and more depth than I expected.

The dishes that best compensated for the lack of "strong-smelling foods" were the ones that substituted other strong-smelling ingredients. Iceberg lettuce cups filled with a confetti of finely chopped tofu, carrots, cloud ear, corn, and pine nuts ($13.95) tasted dry until we smeared on a spoonful of penetratingly aromatic, molasses-black hoisin sauce. The fermented bean paste and chiles in the satay sauce coating a dish of eggplant and tofu ($8.50) collided with the perfume of the fresh basil leaves tossed in, casting sparks. And it was hard to imagine how the strongest, spiciest dish of them all, smoked gluten stir-fried with pungent preserved mustard greens and salty fermented black beans, wouldn't excite the senses.

Soy on soy action: Golden knots are tofu skin stuffed with soft tofu.
Jen Siska
Soy on soy action: Golden knots are tofu skin stuffed with soft tofu.

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Enjoy Vegetarian
956-7868, www.enjoyveggie.com. Lunch 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. daily; dinner 5-9 p.m. daily. Reservations not required. Muni: 1, 8, 15. Noise level: quiet.
839 Kearny (at Washington)

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In fact, the black bean sauce was potent enough that I cut it with swigs from Alice Poon's one concession to her non-Buddhist customers: a bottle of Tsingtao beer. There's only so much that a human, religious or no, can do without.

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