Review: True Bistro

by Adam Bezigian on December 30, 2010

seared spaetzle w/ fennel sausage ($14)

True Bistro, billed as upscale vegan dining, officially opened its doors in November for the whole world to see, proclaiming, “Be True. Try Vegan.”

It’s a curious choice for a slogan on both counts. This is not necessarily an ideal place for the curious to delve into the world of vegan cuisine. And as evidenced by my experience here, the “truth” of their food is a roller coaster of emotions ranging from “leaves me worried and scared” to joyfully expectant.

crusted tempeh + heirloom carrots in lentils & tomato ($17)

It feels almost sacrosanct to say negative things about a business with such lofty ideals. To quote the German post-grunge band Tocotronic, “Die Idee ist gut, doch die Welt nicht noch bereit.” [“The idea is good, but the world; not yet ready.”] Ultimately, the menu is inspired. The location is beautiful and well-lit. The service is still earning its sea legs, but accommodating and pleasant.

green curry + crispy tofu w/ black rice cake & greens ($16)

But the meat o’ the matter — the meat-free cuisine — leaves much to be desired. As an apologetic omnivore, I’m of two minds. On the one hand, I stubbornly crave meat and the pulse-hastening chug of cholesterol. On the other, I appreciate quality and coherence. True Bistro was very much hit-or-miss regarding the latter.

The dishes that were well-executed were delicious. The black bean and plantain torte, which was sweet, savory and bright, easily took the cake in my book. The grilled romaine heart salad also impressed my effin’ socks off. On the other end of the spectrum was the seared spaetzle. The eponymous pasta was delicious, but the accompanying fennel “sausage” was conceptually sound yet ultimately bland, tough, and dry. The sea of lentils which accompanied the crusted tempeh was similarly delicious as the spaetzle, but the tempeh itself, despite an inviting texture, was joyless.

The end of the meal was a delicious coda, which forgave misgivings I had about certain dishes. The ‘death-by-chocolate’ cake was incredible. We’re not talking a patronizing “Oh, that’s good for vegan cuisine,” but rich and truly spectacular. I’m looking forward to the chance to try the rustic pear fruit galette and coconut cream pie.

Overall, True Bistro is a mixed veg bag. There is much to love — certainly beyond the fact that it’s a viable vegan option for fine dining right in our backyard. Here’s hoping that soon more of the offerings will live up to their high standards.

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

britt January 7, 2011 at 1:59 PM

Why are many of these restaurants be entirely vegan? Why can’t they just be restaurants with extensive vegan offerings? Is there something about branding/marketing that I don’t understand? Or be an moral evangelical urge amongst vegan chefs/proprietors?

Shannon January 7, 2011 at 2:46 PM

Britt – I doubt it has a lot to do with marketing. Though being vegan does make a place unique and perhaps more likely to be noticed, the customers lost by not serving meat would render the visibility bump moot if a restaurant were just looking to make money.

Neither is it anything moral or trying to convert people to veganism. I talked to the chef at True Bistro, and he sees vegan cuisine as just that — a cuisine — and one that many people are unfamiliar with at that. They don’t serve meat because they are trying to serve a specific kind of food very well. They want to broaden people’s tastes to include vegan cuisine.

As for making it a restaurant with extensive vegan offerings, most good restaurants specialize in one cuisine — why single out a vegan one? Would you suggest an Italian restaurant make itself more appealing by serving multiple other cuisines with “extensive Italian offerings?”

fefie January 7, 2011 at 2:59 PM

I appreciate the review and can’t wait to try this place out. (I attempted to have lunch there a few days after Christmas but they we closed.) I’m not vegan but I love vegan-focused offerings.

Brit – “Why are many of these restaurants be entirely vegan? ” As there are very few vegan restaurants in the area, and very few restaurants that offer vegan dishes I’m puzzled by the question. After all, most restaurants around here offer all or mostly meat-focused dishes. I think it is great to have a place that specializes in vegan food. (Think of it as parallel to a steakhouse or a seafood restaurant.)

britt January 7, 2011 at 4:00 PM

It seems we have reached the core of the matter. Is Vegan a cuisine or is it a manner of preparation by which to amend pre-existing cuisines?

Perhaps I am being narrowed by my own experience, but I rarely am sitting around thinking “What kind of food do I want to eat for dinner?” and the answer is “vegan”. For me the answer is: thai, pizza, chinese, upscale euro-american bistro, etc. and if such a place has an appealing vegan dish, I will order it. Hence my questioning the utility of an all-vegan restaurant.

But I must concede that the steakhouse analogy does seem an appropriate one. So perhaps I am thinking about this the wrong way.

Shannon January 9, 2011 at 5:08 PM

Britt, I agree that the question of vegan being “cuisine” can be difficult. Most cuisines are a particular style of food. Though this is true of vegan food as well, the cuisine starts with the absence of something, so my comparison to ethnic cuisines doesn’t necessarily work that well. I think Fefie’s comparison to a steakhouse or seafood restaurant is better.

It’s understandable that you wouldn’t seek out vegan cuisine as you would something like Thai food, but I wonder how much of that has to do with the limited number of good vegan restaurants and the perception that vegan is just about “no animal products.” Maybe the way a lot of people think about vegan food would change if there were more opportunities to see what it is — rather than just what it’s missing. I think that’s what True Bistro is trying to do.

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