Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Playing With Being An Herbivore

I am willing to try almost anything once, especially where food is concerned. So, last night, Bob and I, together with five dining companions who are for the most part Omnivores, decided to partake of the new restaurant opened in Akron Ohio by Chrissie Hynde , Vegi Terranean. As the name implies, this restaurant is not only vegetarian, but vegan.

My first impression from outside was of a lovely new space, with a cozy looking Coffee House in front, and what will no doubt be a delightful patio in better weather right outside (it seemed to have an industrial sized fireplace, but even the large fireplace would be no match for NE Ohio's current snow crusted conditions). Inside was another matter.

The first thing I noticed was the hard grey concrete floor. The second thing I noticed was the hard wooden chair. The third thing I noticed, now seated and looking around, was how the entire room seemed deliberately designed with cold, hard angles. A series of tables to my left were made of stainless steel, all in rectangular shapes with sharp edges. Ditto the seating (except for the round and inviting, if unusual, seats at the bar). The bar was likewise a hard rectangle, as were the pendent lights over our heads. This is all obviously purposefully intended for an effect, but it just didn't say "fun playing with food" to me. And the music just didn't match the punky decor - it was more towards standards (which I liked - it just didn't seem to fit the energy of the room).

Anyway, with an open mind and an empty stomach, I awaited our selection of appetizers. The appetizers turned out to be the stars of the evening.

Crostini w/Tomato Relish

This yummy starter is served in place of bread and butter. The tomato relish was sweet and tomatoey and accompanied the fresh bread perfectly.

Spiced Tomatoes and Chick Peas w/Baby Arugala, Feta and Crustini

The cubes at either end of the plate looked and tasted more like tofu than anything else to me and their blandness was a refreshing contrast against the spicy Chick Peas. This dish was delicious - our table consumed two orders!

Marinated Sicilian Olives on Raw Vegetables w/Herbs and Lemon Zest

This was wonderful - the olives were pitted and the green ones were stuffed with a veggie chunk I couldn't identify, but I enjoyed it.

Fried Banana Peppers Filled w/Fresh Herb Risotto and Soy Mozzerella w/Fresh Basil Lime Sauce

This was a spicy "meatball!" Almost too spicy, but so tasty I could not stop nibbling at it. This was the only dish where I felt the soy cheese really worked - I would order this dish any time!

Frito Misto - Tempuraed Fresh Vegetables with Sweet Basil Chili Sauce

I adored this dish - fresh veggies blazing from the fryer with a lighter-than-air tempura breading and a zinger of a sauce on the plate.

Whole Grilled Artichokes and Shaved Rawmesan w/Lemon Herb and Roasted Red Pepper Sauces

As much as I loved the Frito Misto - I hated this dish. First - I was expecting a whole artichoke. At least, I was expecting fresh, not jarred artichoke. The grill treatment just didn't work for a pickled vegetable, though it was pretty, and the dipping sauces were very good.

Arugula, Tomatoes, and Olives w/EVOO and Red Wine Vinaigrette

The only salad we ordered with the appetizers was fresh and tasty, though it almost seemed like overkill, since almost every appetizer plate had some arugula on it!

For entrees, several people ordered pizza, and two of us got pasta, and one person went with the Risotto.

Overall, I was disappointed with the pizzas, but I am from New York, and rather fussy about what I consider to be great pizza (see this EGullet thread to learn what I mean by this). The crusts simply lacked profundity, and the toppings seemed to fall off in disinterest. The soy cheese did not work well here at all - they should have just gone with the traditional Italian pizza that has no cheese. On the upside, several people were pleased that each pizza was served with salad.

"The Ghoulardi": Banana Peppers, Olives, Mushrooms, Red Onion with Spicy Marinara

Another angle on the Ghoulardi.

"Chrissie's Choice": Wild Mushrooms and Scot's Pesto

Fresh Linguini with Portabella and Wild Mushroom Ragu

The fresh wheat pasta was fabulous. But everyone who tasted it agreed that the dish as a whole lacked "umph" (and everyone but me was a mushroom lover).

White Bean Salad with Radicchio and Mixed Romaine and White Balsamic and Black Olive Vinaigrette

This was ordered to accompany the previous entree.

Baked Gardein Chicken Risotto w/Asparagus, Roasted Tomato, EVOO, Rawmesan and Soy Mozzerella

This was the only dish our group ordered that contained the "garden grown protein"/meat substitute Gardein. I honestly did not care for either the Gardein or the dish. I do find it amusing that this product is pushed as a "healthy" alternative to meat, although the ingredients listed on Gardein's website include autolyzed yeast extract - also known as MSG! I'd rather just have meat, fish or cheese, please.

And that is the biggest unsolved mystery of VegiTerranean - I expected the menu to have a heavy emphasis on legumes and roasted vegetables instead of fake cheese and MSG-laced Soy Protein. Perhaps this will change as the restaurant and the menu mature - there is definitely talent in the kitchen. In the meantime - I guess I flunk the Herbivore exam.

Penne Gratin with Cashew Cream, Leeks, Wild Mushrooms and Asparagus, Topped with Toasted Pine Nuts and Rawmesan

This was my entree, and the table agreed it was the winner. The Cashew Cream delivered wonderfully mushroomy flavors (it is the texture, not the taste, of mushrooms that I don't care for) and the Pine Nuts were spot on fresh and crunchy. The toothy whole wheat penne was a perfect foil for the rich sauce, which was also cut nicely by the asparagus.

We were too full for dessert.

I would certainly recommend VegiTerranean to any vegetarian, and the appetizers would make a great light supper for an Omnivore like me. I wouldn't turn down an invitation to join others there. But while I can pass on meat occasionally - I prefer real cheese when playing with my food (see here).

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