This looks to be a slam-dunk. Seattle was recently named the most vegetarian-friendly city in the country. Ever-growing South Lake Union looks like an urban campus full of over-aged, under-dressed, rich college students who dine out daily. Veggie Grill, a vegan restaurant chain headquartered in southern California, has just opened what looks like a colorful cafeteria right in the middle of that action in South Lake Union.
Be still my textured vegetable protein heart.
Veggie Grill is a casual restaurant cooking food made-to-order. The menu runs from soups to salads to sandwiches to sweets. Plant-based and free of animal fat, some items include Veggie Grill’s Chickin’ and Veggie-Steak, which are specially seasoned and marinated vegetable proteins made with soy, wheat and pea protein.
Right at the opening, I went to a special media preview and sampled some of the menu items. I can’t say that this carnivore would feel compelled to return (while the flavors were pretty good, I missed the usual meatiness of some of the dishes), especially when the likes of Cafe Flora, Carmelita, Sutra, and Plum Bistro offer more interesting menus and use more local ingredients. But I can see Veggie Grill being a hit with many of the people who work and play in Lake South Union. And if that scene is too crazy for you (or if you don’t want to deal with paid parking), note that Veggie Grill brings more vegan power to Seattle this fall when it opens an outlet at University Village.
Here’s what I ate:
VG Rollers: Blackened chickin’, cabbage, and creamy Santa Fe spread rolled in grilled flour tortillas and served with salsa. My first introduction to this chickin’ thing. Not bad.
Tomato bisque. I’d choose to make mine with chicken broth and heavy cream, but this one had decent flavor, and doesn’t try to mimic a meat dish.
Buffalo Wings: Crispy chickin’ tossed in spicy Buffalo sauce, with celery sticks and ranch dressing. The chicken texture is close to real, but these fail to approach the desired crispiness of chicken wings because they lack skin, and are coated with panko and flash-fried in rice bran oil–unable to produce the same outer “shell.”
Santa Fe Crispy Chickin’: Fried chickin’ lettuce, tomato, red onion, avocado, and spicy vegan mayo. Love at first sight and bite, but then the allure dissipated slightly as I missed the meatiness of a real chicken sandwich. Still, not bad, though I think it could be lighter on the avocado. Accompanying sweet potato fries were okay. (You can also get the chickin’ in a wheat tortilla wrap or “kale style” on a bed of kale.)
Inside the Santa Fe Crispy Chickin’ sandwich. Here you see what looks like the texture and moistness of perfectly cooked chicken. (To see how this dish made my Sexy Feast column, go here.)
All Hail Kale (entree salad): Marinated kale and red cabbage, corn salsa, agave-roasted walnuts, and ginger-papaya vinaigrette. (Available with blackened chickin’ or tempeh.) Pretty plating and pretty good overall, though a little too sweet. Also, the kale was slightly chewy and void of the bitterness I like about it.
Thai Chickin’ (entree salad): Chillin’ chickin’, romaine, cabbage, corn salsa, green onion, mandarin oranges, sesame seeds, cilantro, wontons, and spicy Thai dressing. Even prettier than the previous salad, and more sweet than spicy–though that sweetness seems more appropriate in this salad.
Urban Plate: Blackened tempeh, caramelized onion, and portobello mushroom stack with steamin’ kale, sliced tomato salad, and chipotle ranch. Good to see this gluten-free option.
Chocolate Pudding Parfait: Made-from-scratch pudding, topped with chocolate sauce, crushed cookies, walnuts, and VG crema. I liked this. Wondering if the familiar chocolate and fatty creaminess held extra appeal after my meat-free meal.
Carrot Cake: Fresh carrots, walnuts, and VG cream cheese frosting. I wouldn’t turn this dessert down.
Chocolate Chip Cookies. Pretty standard, without any special wow factor.