March 21, 2010

When is no choice the perfect choice? Sutra

In what seems like another lifetime, my husband and I spent three weeks camping in Italy, Austria and the country formerly known as Yugoslavia. It was kind of our honeymoon. The reason we were in "Yugoslavia" was because we were sometimes traveling with another couple, the husband of which was a draft-card burning, rabble-rousing, SDS member who was researching the working conditions of factory workers in Eastern Europe, and was hoping to visit factories there. (Did he visit factories? I don't think so.) Whatever the reason we ended up there, it was beautiful and fascinating, and we loved our travels in that country. Anyway, we met up with our friends in Dubrovnik, and, taking a break from the tenting life, were eating out in a fairly fancy restaurant — cloth tablecloths and all. I was the first to order from the very extensive menu, and as I started naming my choices, each one was met with a statement from the waiter proclaiming, "sorry, we don't have that today." After three or four failed options, I finally said nicely, "Why don't you just tell us what you do have." Pointing to the menu he said, "we have this, this and this." It certainly made our selection process easier. (We weren't yet vegetarian on this trip or our choices would probably have been limited to bottled water.)

Now that we've been vegan for such a long time, I'm used to limited menu choices — grateful for ANY choices, sometimes. But we recently had dinner at a restaurant where we had NO choices (they will accommodate allergies, special diets), and it was heaven. It was perfection. We had dinner at Sutra in Seattle. Sutra is a tiny box of a restaurant with simple furnishings and bare-bones but cheerful atmosphere that serves a four-course, prix- fixe menu of exquisite, vegan food of the highest standards. Every presentation was gorgeous, and every bite blissful. The menu changes often, and reflects the seasonal availability of organic, local ingredients, with utmost respect paid to issues of sustainability and eco-responsibility. A prix-fixe menu is offered because it "respects food of the moment, [and] eliminates the need to stock, and most likely waste, food that may not be ordered." The food was prepared and served with love and grace, and we enjoyed every morsel.

Unfortunately, even with my fastest lens on the camera, it was too dark to photograph the food in the manner it deserved, and I was forced to use a flash, which isn't the most flattering way to photograph food. Next time I will sit at the bar where the light is much better.

We started the evening with roasted sunchoke kaffir lime and toasted pecan soup, with a pickled rhubarb, navel-blood orange and radish salad. I'm having trouble coming up with words to describe the mellow yet complex flavor of the perfectly creamy soup so let's just leave it to your imagination. I pine for all the sunchokes I didn't roast and make into soup instead of adding them to the compost.

The second course was miner's lettuce, Asian pear, tri-colored carrots and fried fiddlehead ferns served with wild-foraged blackberry habanero vinaigrette, and finished with toasted black sesame seeds. Oh my.

Course number three was cashew cheese, carnival squash and luna pumpkin stuffed into nettle mung bean crepes with smoked morel-sage demi-glaze served with wild-foraged wood sorrel, and finished with a balsamic reduction. I can only sigh at the memory.

For the fourth course, dessert, we enjoyed chocolate-(made with Theo's Madagascar chocolate), coconut-rose ice cream and raw cacao nib brittle. Rich and creamy — a perfect finale.

As they say on Lost, "we've got to go back."

12 comments:

  1. wow, you ate like royalty! that meal sounds/looks wonderful. and i love the sustainable philosophy behind the restaurant.

    the only time i’ve experienced a fine dining, multi-course vegan meal was at the capstone dinner at my friend jason’s culinary arts school. the students designed the menu with a special vegan option that i think i alone took advantage of, and it was one of the most memorable eating experiences of my life. every dish was tastier than the last, and they just kept coming out with more plates of food, it was never-ending. i felt so utterly pampered.

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  2. That Dubrovnik restaurant story is hilarious. But I know what you mean--I often feel as if all I can eat is (UNdressed) salad! This prix fixe menu looks insanely good--and what a great concept. So many new high-quality vegan restaurants seem to be popping up all over these days--I think vegan food has finally "arrived" as a cuisine in its own right!

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  3. Your pictures are stunning! Totally drooling over the 2nd course.

    I also like to cook without recipes so I know what you mean when you say "writing a cooking blog is a challenge." This is my first visit to your blog and it is AMAZING so you're doing an awesome job. Just keep enjoying the cooking and the journey and the words will come. :>)

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  4. Emily,
    Yes, the meal really was wonderful, and I, too, love Sutra's mission. Your meal sounds wonderful, too. I once had a similar experience when I had lunch at a technical college with a culinary arts program. Once a month the students took over the cafeteria and served a gourmet meal. I requested a vegan option, and my food was amazing — much better looking than the regular lunch!

    Ricki,
    We have lots of "hilarious" stories from that trip. :) And, yes, the meal at Sutra was spectacular. We have many more vegan options here than I'm used to but Sutra was an entirely different food experience from the norm.

    LBTurner,
    Thanks so much for your comments and compliments, and for reading my blog!

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  5. Your meal looks incredible (especially dessert!), but I don't know if I'd be down with no choices... I'm too picky. I don't like a lot of things. I guess what I'm saying is I am a really lousy dinner date.

    By the way, you mentioned the bowl in my soup post last week, so I wanted to let you know it is from Goodwill! You really can get the best stuff there!

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  6. I'm sorry, but I had to write this even before finishing what looks like a great post to tell you about a book if you haven't read it already. If you're at all interested about how Yugoslavia "fell," you should read Origins of Catastrophe by Warren Zimmerman (the former Ambassador) .

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  7. Mary,
    Fortunately, none of the things I really hate were on the menu. I thought I disliked sunchokes, but I was wrong.

    Goodwill and I are old friends, and I spend way more time there than I probably should. I love all second-hand stores, garage sales, etc., and have a large collection of dishware to prove it — in Wisconsin.

    Anon,
    Thanks for taking the time to comment — I'll look into the book.

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  8. That meal looks incredible. I love that restaurant's philosophy, using in season, available food and eliminating so much waste. Fabulous!

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  9. Oh Wow! Everything looks and sounds absolutely wonderful! The dessert looks too good to be real, I need to check it out next time I'm in Seattle!

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  10. Omg, those crepes! It's really a great experience to dine at a restaurant where everything is vegan and looks so delicious!

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  11. Wow. This meal is incredible.

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  12. Janet,
    I totally agree with your assessment!

    Oraphan,
    It was. It was. Do you come to Seattle often?

    Mihl,
    Yes it is. Every mouthful was wonderful.

    Two Vegan Boys,
    It really was a wonderful restaurant experience. Thanks for your comment!

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