All month long I’m blogging about Atlanta’s vegan-friendliness in the hope of dispelling the national misconception that it’s a crummy place to be vegan. As you’ve seen in earlier posts, that’s so not true! But as I ramble on about all the great things we DO have, I’m acutely aware of something we don’t.
Yep, it’s a sad fact that Atlanta lacks upscale vegan restaurants. Locals like Cafe Sunflower as a treat, but I think both locations are pretty casual (decor &, especially – sometimes excessively – the service). The menu almost never changes; the food can be pretty, but it doesn’t delight, excite, or teach me. It’s just nice.
If you want fancy fine dining, you have to go to a non-vegetarian restaurant with good vegan choices or special menus. Thankfully, Atlanta’s restaurateurs excel in this regard. You might already know about the entirely vegan menu I enjoyed at Abattoir. Vegans are also enthusiastically accommodated by “Top Chef” Kevin Gillespie of Woodfire Grill, Asha Gomez at Cardamom Hill (forthcoming Nov 2011), and the teams at Empire State South and Restaurant Eugene, among others. (NOTE: since we’re southern, and everything’s a bit more laid-back in the south, by fine dining I’m thinking well-informed and polite servers, a beautiful, unique setting, tasting/prix fixe menu availability, silverware that gets changed with courses, and expertly-prepared food made with locally-sourced (often organic) ingredients. Or at least most of these. :))
Two tips for a successful vegan experience at higher-end restaurants: 1) make a reservation a few days in advance (you’d do this anyway) and 2) carefully explain your dietary needs to the person taking the order (usually the host/ess answers the phone, NOT a server or cook). Don’t just assume that they’ll know what vegan means – be clear by saying something like, no birds, no beef, pork, fish, eggs, dairy products, or honey. I also often ask the person taking my reservation to mark “no gelatin” since a lot of fancy folk use it in foams, sauces, and gels. (There are vegan alternatives, of course, and creative cooks know ’em.) The clearer you can be with the person taking the reservation, the better luck you’ll have when the message gets to the person in charge of your food.
Happily, there’s (at least) one place where you don’t have to call ahead for a special menu, because the chef-owner writes her seasonal menus with vegans in mind. I’m talking about Ria Pell of Sauced & Ria’s Bluebird, of course! I recently had the pleasure of trying the new fall menu just a day after it was printed – and I’m excited to share my thoughts here.
Reason 9: Ria Pell’s vegan-friendly fine-dining at Sauced Restaurant & Lounge
Above, Sauced logo and views of the dining areas & bar.
This isn’t what I had for dinner, but it IS a great picture of a vegan menu Ria made over the summer. I tried the branded tofu steak at MondoHomo’s lunch in the park. Pictured here: tofu t-bone, succotash and black-eyed pea fritters.
Nate awaiting our first course in a dimly-lit corner. Sauced is a sexy restaurant with a sexy vibe – just-enough-light-to-see-your-food-and-swoon-over-your-sweetie kinda place.
And here it is! A crispy, rich, gooey yummy little slice of heaven. I couldn’t get enough of the cashew goat cheese on top!
We helped ourselves to house-made seitan skewers with two of the sauces du jour: tofu-orange and homemade relish. We’d planned on only ordering one skewer, but it was so good we had to order a second… and a third!
Earlier that day I saw Ria at Sevananda buying unsweetened rice milk by the case for the rosemary bechamel, so I was really excited about this one. It did not disappoint. Tender parsnips, carrots, and fingerling potatoes suspended in a creamy sauce, nestled underneath luscious mashed potatoes: a comforting final course, as the new vegan dessert had not been added to the menu yet. (I should check in and make a reservation soon – wanna come with?) Nate noted with appreciation the fact that the shepherd’s pie wasn’t marginalized or simply set-apart from the other choices with a “vegan” notation. It’s simply another choice that happens to be vegan. I like that, too. Do you?
I hope more Atlanta-area vegans will support Ria at Sauced & Bluebird. It’s great that other restaurants react positively to our ethics, but Ria deserves our thanks for her proactiveness. She is well-known for her inclusiveness. At the MondoHomo meal, most of the choices were vegan – two vegan entrees, one non-vegan; several vegan sides, only a couple non-vegan. (Revisit those glorious photos here.)
Sauced also holds the honor of hosting THE VERY FIRST Atlanta Vegan Drinks Meet-up (details, menu, pictures here). Just over a month ago the restaurant offered a four-course prix fixe benefit dinner for the Plaza Theatre, Atlanta’s longest continually-running independent theatre (which just happens to be owned & operated by two amazing vegans).
So clearly, the Sauced & Bluebird families are all about making us feel loved, appreciated, and well-fed. Next time you’re seeking a special night out, I hope you’ll choose one of Ria’s cozy spots.