Tuesday, September 4, 2012

"Something Vegan" at City Cafe

Recently I read this interview in b, in which Jared Rhine, the new chef at City Cafe, said his favorite dish on the menu was called "Something Vegan." Most chefs rarely cop to preferring their vegan menu items, so I had to check it out.

This comically titled dish seems like a response to the question that vegans often pose to chefs at modern American restaurants when they find no dining options, even at the height of summer's bounty.  "Please, can you make me something vegan?" Usually what comes back from the kitchen after this request is a hodgepodge assembly. It can be fresh and tasty, but it can also be laughably thrown together with whatever happens to be on hand.
City Cafe's "Something Vegan" sampler benefits from forethought but seemed to fall down on the seasonal focus of the restaurant. The quinoa center of the dish was the bomb!  (I'd go back to have a full plate of it. Maybe two.) The quinoa was surrounded by squash tempura, grilled tomatoes, and roasted cauliflower, which were well-cooked and most likely local. The asparagus seemed more like an appropriate springtime offering though. And the mango salsa felt out of place with the rest of the plate. Maybe if the overly sweet salsa could be swapped out for more supremely delicious grains, this dish would be a clear winner.       
Not content with one option only, my boyfriend and I quizzed the staff about the appetizers. (This restaurant is hip enough to have a vegan main dish in place but they could work on adding "vegan option available" cues for their other menu items.) The helpful staff was able to offer some fresh and tangy meatless nachos (minus the cheese and sour cream) and a nicely-dressed chopped salad with cannellini beans, squash, hearts of palm, and tomatoes (hold the feta).

So City Cafe clearly can serve more than "something" vegan and they can use seasonal veggies to great effect. Located at 1001 Cathedral Street, City Cafe is a bustling, energetic space with a large, attentive staff. It can get crowded, especially during brunch. They also have sidewalk seating, an excellent coffee bar, and a "bar bar" with happy hour specials.    

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