I know what you're thinking: vegan, sustainable, organic – show me the waif-like, bearded twenty-something wearing a handmade pouch around their neck, hunched over a well-worn copy of The Fountainhead, sipping a slowly separating, lumpy green grass drink and sneering at your leather shoes. The completely – and I mean utterly devastates that image (If you want to know more about the restaurant owners Mark and Ami Beach Shadle, check out the Hartford Courant's recent article.)
This elegant, refined restaurant, which took over where the most recently stood, masterfully blends fine dining with modern organic sensibilities, from the design of the dining room to the selection of food to the music playing while you eat.
The walls are shelved with different books on alternative cooking/eating methods (should you want to make a switch from hormone-riddled meat, or just find new recipes for tempeh), along with delicate tea lights and Shiva statues.
The waitstaff wear uniforms (that don't include a dashiki or sandals) and the view from the table near the window overlooks a courtyard and the downtown Branford area, making you feel both removed from urban life and right in the middle of it at the same time. The music adds to that sensation by being a mix of Bob Marley and instrumentals that are just loud enough to feel like a bar, but low enough to have a normal conversation. No throat singing or lazy bongos. This is where vegans go to propose.
Let's Get Started
For appetizers, I ordered their “world famous” sweet potato fries with hickory ketchup and the dim sum platter. Unless you deep fry sweet potato fries in tar, you can never, ever go wrong with them as an order. These fries are indeed yummy, but the ketchup really makes them enjoyable.
The dim sum platter offered a nice variety of tempura style peppers and broccoli, steamed dumplings and spring rolls filled with cabbage, carrots and daikon, an Asian radish that tastes like rye. My only caveat about the sauces is that while they both enhanced the victuals, the cilantro peanut sauce has a bit of a grainy texture to it.
I ordered a Bunny Bliss, a fresh blend of carrots, ginger root and apple juice as a drink. I wasn't a fan, but I chalk that up to the fact that I was so excited about the post dinner, take-home drink (the Wild Jungle Peanut Butter Cup), that I was expecting the drink to be more smoothie and less juice. My take-home drink was a peanut butter, banana and cacao smoothie with almond milk and well worth it! Delicious.
The Meat and Potatoes... or the Tempeh and Greens
For entrees, I tasted the New Orleans Creole Tempeh and the Rock the Casbah. The Creole tempeh comes with collard greens, sauteed onions, two triangles of fried tempeh and a corn muffin. The tempeh was very tasty, especially with the fire-roasted pepper Creole sauce. The mashed potatoes were more like a mashed baked potato – good, but no real seasoning – and I question the corn muffin. While good (and gluten-free), I don't think I would've gone with a sweet, sugar-crusted corn muffin. I would've made a pepper cornbread instead. The sweetness was out of place on the dish, and if it was an effort to balance the salty of the tempeh, it did not work.
The Rock the Casbah smelled so warming. The Moroccan spices were spot on and the array of vegetables mixed with tofu, chick peas and brown rice were hearty and filling. Sweet potatoes and fennel added depth of flavor to the dish and the sauce mixed with the rice perfectly. The chick peas were a little crunchy, but what really struck me about the dish was there was no cream or cheese or anything and yet the plate was creamy and satisfying. This is the dish that makes the non-believer realize that you can indeed get fat in a vegan lifestyle, the dish the makes you say, “Can you believe that all this is natural/vegan?”
To Top if Off
Dessert was the Ray of the Sun Dae, organic vanilla “Nice” crème, chocolate fudge, soy whipped cream and walnuts. If I hadn't pounded all the previously discussed food, I would've put that sundae down in seconds. The “ice cream” was thick and sweet and reminded me of an ice cream I used to eat as a kid from Lupe's Drug Store in Bridgeport. I'm positive the green frog with gumball eyes from my youth was not organic, but for this taste reminded me of that treat. When people think they would be giving up anything by switching to a gluten-free, organic, and/or vegan lifestyle, this is the evidence I would provide. And, I'm mildly lactose-intolerant and that sundae sat perfectly well with me.
The Other Green $$
The entrees were about $20 each and my total bill came to almost $100, but consider that I ate more than a normal person for review purposes (and maybe sheer gluttony). But splitting an appetizer and having an entree will run you the same as any mid-to-fine dining restaurant and you'll have the added benefit of feeling like you did something good by supporting sustainable cuisine.