Plum's Vegan Bounty: Organic, Zesty, Batali Approved!

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Plum's $9 happy hour slider trio (the small ones are easier to handle).
Native son Mario Batali may be a long ways off from vegan poster boy, but the celebrity chef recently announced in his syndicated column that meat is an "overused" ingredient.

He frames this statement around his "friend and constant companion" chef Jose Andres' claim that meat is "overrated." To paraphrase some of his more expressive passages (the man is as long on idioms as he is on gusto), he writes:

I don't think meat is overrated per se. It's delicious, and I enjoy meat frequently, especially a good burger. It is, however, overused. Not out of malice or foolishness, but out of habits learned over the last century. It is the centerpiece of most tables in America for most of our meals. But I do agree...that its reign at the center of the plate is waning...Fruits, grains and vegetables are undeniably the future of sustainability and of healthy eating and nutrition in this country and eventually the world.

If the son of Seattle's famous salumi purveyor can relegate the role of meat on the American dinner plate from the center to the side, his sentiments must surely collaborate somewhere in today's urban omnivore, and that pro-veggie cattle call was all the bait I needed to return to Plum Bistro, the beating heart of Capitol Hill's vegan scene.

Voted Seattle's Best Vegan Restaurant in 2010, it's rightly mentioned that Plum's salads are the least of their attractions, a simple debunking of vegan cuisine's eternal association with the hippie salad bowl. Nope, the main draw inside the minimalist, industrial tones of this small, 100% organic bistro is appetizers and burgers.

Of these, the crazy Jamaican burger is a zestfully potent stack of flavor impossible to eat publicly without some degree of humiliation. This is the signature burger, the bread and butter of the Hillside Quickie sandwich shop franchise, with mounds of grilled onion, vegan aioli, potato salad, and slices of jerk-spiced baked tofu layered on a house made bun and impossible to eat in one bite. But the slider version during happy hour (the bbq seitan, crazy Jamaican, and quinoa burgers are all available) mitigates this dilemma, retaining all the big taste--and your dignity.

The spicy cajun mac n' yease, a buttery alchemy of elbow macaroni, nutritional yeast, sunflower oil, and red pepper is outstanding. It's an oily, calorie saturated glob, but who cares--any authentic homemade version is equally so. For Seattle vegans and many omnivores, it's a non-paralleled comfort food experience.

But what would comfort food be--vegan soul food, to be precise--without some greens? I jump at their braised collard greens with smoked seitan when they're available, but the charred kale with smoked tofu and roasted garlic on the menu recently filled the void. The restaurant has weathered some criticism for its liberal use of salt and oil, and you should expect your greenery to have its share too, but if you can get into the vegan swing of things--zero cholesterol, zero cruelty, 100% organic vegetable cooking worth coming back for--you'll be in fine company whether or not, like Batali, you only go meatless on Mondays.

 
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