When it comes to the vegan lifestyle, I have mixed emotions. On the one hand, I’m a confirmed carnivore. On the other, I firmly believe that reducing our consumption of animal proteins would make us healthier and be better for the planet. I also suspect that reducing demand for those products could help eliminate the horrific conditions of our modern factory farms.
A few years ago, my wife and I vowed to eat vegan one day a week for a year, and over that time we had some amazing meals, both in restaurants and at home. I have not, however, developed what you might call a “vegan palate.”
To provide variety, and perhaps remind them of dishes they enjoyed before converting to veganism, many vegan chefs employ various “substitute” ingredients meant to imitate animal products. Some, like almond milk instead of dairy, are tasty. Others, like certain soy-based “cheeses” or “meats,” I just don’t enjoy. I have vegan friends who love these substitutes, and I’m sure that over time I could learn to appreciate them. But I prefer chefs who use them sparingly. Unfortunately, that’s not the philosophy at Violette’s Vegan—the new westside collaboration of poker pro Cyndy Violette and chef/author Mark Rasmussen.
Open for lunch and dinner, Violette’s is painted in bright colors and has a bit of a hippie vibe. A shelf is packed with books on healthy lifestyle options. Choices include sandwiches, quesadillas, salads, stews and stir fry. For meat substitutes, the chef occasionally uses tofu, but more frequently relies on seitan (wheat gluten) or tempeh (fermented soy), with which he creates everything from meatballs to kebabs. While I appreciated the variety, the textures aren’t for everyone. And there’s no way you’re going to mistake these items for beef in the Hungry Man stew. The same goes for the pseudo-cheese product in the macaroni and cheese—it’s acceptable, but nothing like the real thing.
My favorite meals at Violette’s have been void of such faux products. The Zucchini Zen Sticks, breaded with polenta and quinoa, for example, are wonderful as long as you stick to the marinara dipping sauce and avoid the cheddar “cheeze” version. The excellent pomodoro sauce that comes with stir-fried veggies and whole-grain linguine in the Garden of Paradise is suspiciously similar to that marinara, although I haven’t tasted them side-by-side. I was also very impressed by both the juices and the soy milk shakes.
Despite those solid dishes and several decent ones that I probably would’ve liked more if I were accustomed to vegan dining, there were two items that I can’t imagine anyone enjoying. The first was a bowl of tomato soup that had neither the color, consistency nor taste of tomatoes. In fact, even the owner seemed confused, taking it back to the kitchen before returning to tell me that it was, in fact, what we’d ordered. Even worse was a quesadilla completely overpowered by a rancid-tasting tofu sour cream.
While I admit that serious vegans might very well enjoy the food at Violette’s more than I did, I can’t imagine anyone tolerating the lousy service I received on one of my visits. Courses repeatedly arrived without silverware; the sweet tea my wife requested was never delivered; and, despite the small dining area, it was nearly impossible to get a server’s attention to address those issues. Hopefully that was just a bad night. Because while I’ll gladly endeavor to expand my palate, my service expectations are set in stone.
Al’s Menu Picks
- Zucchini Zen Sticks ($6)
- Garden of Paradise ($12)
- All Is Well juice ($5 and $8)
- Polar Bear shake ($8)
8560 W. Desert Inn Rd., 702-685-0466. Open daily for lunch 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m.and dinner 5–10 p.m. Dinner for two, $15–$30.