Repeatable: Yes for veggies; maybe for omnis. Visits: 1
Sutra's beans, cashew cream, and carrots with fried sage
There are two types of vegetarian restaurants: the ones that lavish their efforts on eaters seriously smitten with vegetables and the ones that want to cater to meat-eaters too. The differences between them aren’t readily apparent unless you’ve been a vegetarian for a significant length of time. As a recidivist vegetarian (these spells can last for years) with many hard-core veggie friends, let me assure you that there are indeed differences. Most of Seattle’s vegetarian restaurants target an omnivorous audience, with menus full of pasta, pizza, bread and various forms of tofu coyly pretending to be meat.
Wallingford’s tiny Sutra, however, doesn’t play that game. No soy-carb fillers distract from the main show here: Vegetables, in all their lively glory, sometimes wild and foraged, always organic and seasonal. Three thoughts kept recurring during dinner as I scraped my plate clean: ” 1) Hallelujah! 2) Finally. 3) Yum.”
There was another thought too: “$33 for a four courses? What a steal!” With ingredients as pristine as the ones offered here, Sutra’s dinner provides amazing value. If I lived within 10 blocks of this place, I’d walk here for dinner every week.
Chef Colin, a whippet-thin man with yogic calmness, introduces the meal, explaining the ingredients and concluding with a brief statement of gratitude and awareness. I thought this prelude was low-key, brief, and appropriate–and quite frankly, I barely noticed that a gong was used, though every other reviewer in town fixated upon it.
We started with the generously sized celery root-roasted beet Napolean, a composed pile of sliced root vegetables given interest and tang by sun-dried tomatoes, roasted garlic, capers, and an amazing wild nettle pesto I wanted to cram into my mouth by the spoonful. Nettles are extremely earthy, like bracken fiddlehead ferns, which taste extremely meaty and earthy, a bit like mushrooms.
The second course was a savory, intense tangle of braised winter greens and fresh watercress with slices of tangelos and crisp Jerusalem artichoke chips, dressed with olive oil and a balsamic reduction. Mmmmm.
The smoked great White Northern beans of the third course had a beautiful musky flavor that was complemented by a silky puddle of Hedgehog mushroom-cashew cream sauce. I loved the crunch of the roasted whole baby carrots and the crisp of the fried sage, too. The arrangement would have been perfect had the beans not been a tad undercooked. Still, I managed to eat most of them–even though I regretted their malodorous reminders several hours later.
Dessert was chewy circle of coconut-date-basil macaroon, topped with a local honey sorbet. I’m pretty sure the macaroon was raw–I don’t mean that it was undercooked, but that it was a purposefully uncooked formed dessert, which are quite popular among raw vegetarians (the various kinds: ovo-lacto (eat milk and egg); vegan (no animal or insect products); raw (no vegetables processed or heated above 116 degrees). Quite frankly, I didn’t care if it was cooked or not–it was delicious. But anyone expecting a traditional tart would have been utterly nonplussed by this chewy brown composition, which more closely resembled a chewy fat cookie.
If you decide to visit Sutra and have never really eaten much vegetarian fare before, please keep in mind that context is important. You wouldn’t judge a sushi restaurant by your understanding of a steakhouse, would you? So a vegetable that would be considered undercooked in a steakhouse is probably supposed to be that way in a place like Sutra (except for beans. Beans, like rice, should NEVER be al dente. We’re talking basic digestion issues here, folks.)
If flavors are too intense or too mild–well, sometimes that’s how ingredients actually taste (think of raw garlic). A great vegetarian chef understands how ingredients relate to each other and composes a dish that achieves a balance between loud and quiet flavors, acid and cream, crunch and goo. Chef Colin is still a young guy. The longer he cooks like this, the better Sutra’s going to get. His food was clean and pure, practically thrumming with positive intent and boundless energy.
So maybe I sound like I’ve drunk some of Sutra’s ginger-lemon Kool-Aid. I did. And I’ll do it again. (BTW, the ginger-lemon tonic is QUITE intense. Add some of the super-filtered house water to tone it down for personal tastes, and you’ll be very happy with it.)