A Single Pebble rocks: a wonderful and unimposing gem



Mock Eel

All too often, the only option for Chinese food to be found in Vermont is the typical, Americanized, take-out-style Chinese. However, A Single Pebble is a Chinese restaurant that prides itself on bringing authentic and creative Chinese cuisine to the streets of Burlington, Vermont. I have been dining at A Single Pebble for years, and they consistently succeed in serving a variety traditional and non-traditional Chinese dishes sourced from local, in-season ingredients.

While the lunch menu is limited, the dinner menu for A Single Pebble is extremely generous. Two friends accompanied me for dinner, and with all of us being vegetarian and having all dined there before, we knew there was a large variety of vegetarian and vegan options on the menu alongside the meat-based options. The servers are very helpful and accommodating to any dietary needs, with the menu featuring a variety of dishes, including dumplings, fried rice, noodles, tofu and seitan dishes, soups, stir fries and seafood, as well as a wine and beer menu.

Stationed about three blocks off of Church Street, A Single Pebble is located in a small, apartment-style building with worm wooden steps. Walking through a small entrance room, our eyes slowly adjusted to the warm yet dim lighting from the red and black tones throughout the room. The décor was sophisticated and minimalistic, featuring lush green jungle plants and a three-foot-tall marble Buddha statue in a corner. A variety of differently sized round tables were throughout the room, a well-stocked and glossy wooden bar ran along one side of the room, and a set of wide steps leads led down to a lower level dining area.

We were greeted by a pleasant hostess who directed us to the first circular table to the left of the doorway. The table was covered in a thick tablecloth and was surrounded by high back wooden chairs that were unusually comfy, despite only having a thin cushion on them. In the center of the table, there was a large circular slab of marble that rotated, meant to accommodate larger shared meals among a group.

Our server, a pleasant older woman with a relaxed and professional demeanor, arrived promptly. She brought us each iced water, as well as a small dish of mixed nuts as a kind of appetizer. To start, we ordered the fresh napa cabbage salad, the mock eel and the double garlic broccoli, all from the small dish section of the expansive dinner menu.

We also ordered a pot of jasmine green tea to share, which arrived promptly in an intricately detailed cast iron teapot, resting heavily on a claw-footed holder, along with three small teacups. The tea was loose leaf in a small metal strainer in the pot and smelled flowery and aromatic as it steeped.

Snacking on the little dish of mixed nuts whetted our appetites, and we anxiously awaited our first course of dishes as we surveyed the entree menu. For our main dish, we ordered the Buddha Sesame Beef to share, which was a vegetarian entree dish comprised of fried seitan served over a bed of fried veggies. In preparation for our meal, our waiter brought us each a set of chopsticks and hot white rice, packed into small china bowls and flipped over on plates to keep warm.

About 10 minutes later, the hot mock eel arrived, stacked high on a blue and white dish, a tangle of long, sticky strips of shiitake mushroom caps, deep fried and slathered in a richly dark brown ginger scallion sauce, sprinkled with sesame seeds and chives. Biting into the mock eel, I was met with a perfectly balanced texture of chewy and crispy, and a myriad of flavors hit my taste buds. The sauce was thick and incredibly rich and gooey, sweet and savory flavors mixing with a hint of smoke and a pinch of sour, and the white rice proved to be perfect for soaking up the extra sauce. I believe I blacked out for a moment after ascending into another realm of food heaven, because I do not remember the second or third dish arriving, simply them suddenly appearing on our little table.

The napa cabbage was chilled and shredded, tossed with cilantro and white rice vinegar, piled high on a small blue serving dish. The satisfying crunch of the cabbage, mixed with the somewhat citrusy bite of the cilantro and paired with the slightly bitter rice wine vinegar, proved to be a delicious and refreshing mix. For such a simple dish comprised of three ingredients, the flavors were incredibly multi layered and satisfying.

We moved onto the double garlic broccoli. Large chunks of tender, wok fried broccoli glistened amid white cashews and slivers of garlic. The garlic sauce was a good balance of spicy and flavorful garlic tones, soy sauce and spices without being too overpowering to our senses. While not as creative or flavorful as the mock eel or the napa cabbage, the double garlic broccoli was a tasty, small dish if you are in the mood for something simple.

The rotating marble slab on our table proved useful for spinning around to each of us to survey our dishes and each portion out our own servings. The green jasmine tea, properly steeped by this point, proved to be quite flavorful and a deliciously smooth, the perfect palate cleanser between bites.
At this point, the three of us realized we had somewhat overestimated the size of our stomachs and were shocked when the Buddha Sesame Beef arrived, a monstrously huge dish of crispy fried seitan mixed up with stir fried veggies, tossed in a sesame garlic sauce and sprinkled with sesame seeds. Despite being very stuffed at this point, my mouth started watering from the beautiful presentation of the dish and the intense aromas. The seitan was piping hot, incredibly crispy and satisfying to bite into. The sauce it had been cooked in was very similar to the ginger scallion sauce the mock eel had been in. The bites of seitan were paired perfectly with bites of the tender, stir-fried veggies, which included snap peas, onions, red and green bell pepper, water chestnuts, brown cap mushrooms, bamboo shoots, tiny delicate fungi and baby corn.

Nearing our breaking point for how much delicious food we could fit in our stomachs, we finished off our jasmine green tea and asked to carry away the remaining half of the Buddha Sesame Beef. Our waitress arrived with our check and thanked us for visiting, while gently placing a small, textured pebble on our printed receipt, an unusual and charming gesture in reference to the name of the restaurant. The check came out to be about 80 dollars, including a 20 percent tip and tax. For a satisfying, incredibly delicious meal that included leftovers for three, this seemed reasonable.

A Single Pebble is a wonderful and unimposing little gem hidden away from Church Street. Simply the mock eel, which I order every time I dine there, is truly worth the visit. While some of the dishes are expensive, the portion sizes, quality of the local ingredients and incredible pairings of flavors and satisfying textures all make it worth a special visit for dinner.