Saturday, April 16, 2011

John's of 12th Street. Traditional Italian and vegan at the same table.

See?  It can be done. This is not merely gratuitous proof but overwhelming proof done exceedingly well. There are so many situations where we have no choice but to break bread with those who insist on eating meat. Unfortunately we're often left with few culinary options above and beyond the grilled veggies or salads.  This all changes here.

I wonder who has walked on this hundred year old tile floor.  
You should put John's of 12th Street on your list.  If you don't find yourself eating at John's you're missing out on seeing what a restaurant owner can do to attract the vegan/veto vote.  I don't mean one or two items marked as vegan, I mean a whole menu.

This isn't hidden in a little box on the bottom of the menu.  The owner is ADVERTISING his vegan menu.
"From soup to dessert"
Stepping into John's is stepping into the past.  There are inlaid marble panels on the lower wall imported from Italy and (twice) restored murals depicting the city states and their coats of arms from the era before they were united into Italy.  The restaurant was a tad on the dark side and we shopped around, since the place was still setting up when we arrived for our early dinner a bit before 5, and ended up at the well lit window table.  I imagine as darkness descends on the city the candles on each table create a remarkable dining environment.

A hundred years of wax?
Funny, I did have to ask for the vegan menu and Bobby our waiter said he didn't think I was the "type". I did have my Mickey Mouse Disney T shirt on but next time I'll be sure to wear my Grateful Dead garb.  I did have my earring in so that should have keyed him in right away.  Oh well.

The menu is impressive, and honestly, what I dream is that we can find a menu like this in every single restaurant sometime in the future.  This isn't a menu of omission, pawning off spaghetti and meatballs sans meatballs as their original vegan creation, this is a menu DESIGNED FOR US!!

Options like you normally don't find.  Enlarge this and see what is offered.
Reading the menu saddened me.  I didn't have the stomach capacity, (although still impressive when I want it to be), to eat every thing I saw, and I wanted every thing I saw.

I started with garlic bread.  I know it's made with olive oil in many places but butter still can be an ingredient and it's nice to just say "vegan" and be done with it.  I still said "vegan" a lot since there is a whole lot of cooking going on that I don't care to indulge in and really really really didn't want to be writing about mistakes during this dinner.  (There were none made.  Yay).

The caesar salad had baked shitake mushroom chips.  Mike, the owner,  told me they were soaked in soy and then baked.  They added a nice smokiness and crunch to the salad.  The dressing had a bit of seaweed in it.  Although nothing can duplicate the exact taste of a true caesar made with raw eggs and anchovies, this dressing came close.  Creamy and sea salty, it hit a certain mark.  I still think $9.95 is steep for a salad but I really don't know how much a caesar salad is since I don't order salads in restaurants.  In any case we tagged almost 30 bucks onto the bill in salads.

Vegan Caesar Salad and Vegan Garlic Bread
I finally "settled" on the Seitan Alla Rosa which is cooked in a sauce with artichokes and fire roasted peppers and a marsala wine mushroom sauce.  Shitake and button mushrooms were part of the smothering of the seitan.  The seitan was light and fluffy but still had a nice toothiness to it.  There were many layers of subtle flavors and for once I didn't pour hot sauce or sprinkle red pepper flakes all over my food.  The marinara sauce on the pasta was made just right with a hint of sweetness in the background.

Seitan alla Rosa

Seitan Alla Rosa without the flash.

My wife ordered the Seitan Parmigiana.  Usually she goes for the "formerly living creature" parmigiana so this was an incredibly welcome change.  That and she loved the seitan.  Since she eats cheese she told me she'd order the seitan again but with real cheese.  I say, "kudos," and one step at a time.  I'm always happy when a non vegan validates my claim of goodness.  I know my palate has changed over this last year

Seitan Parm with Daiya

Closeup of the seitan.

Now we get to desserts.  Oh man, this is where I lost all control and self worth.  I never had Lula's Sweet Apothecary Ice Cream before and I may have to restrict myself to a 500 calorie a day diet of real food now that I know this stuff exists.  Good Humor trucks beware! If someone finds an old ice cream truck and a block of dry ice this city will lose all roving ice cream vendors.  This stuff was so rich and delicious and had that crunch of the chocolate chips.  Amazing.

Chocolate Chocolate Chip.
As if these people weren't the devil incarnate they went ahead and made a vegan cannoli.  I'm a goner.   The cannoli has the same texture as ricotta and a sweet vanilla flavor on one side and chocolate on the other.  The scorze is light and crisp and sweet.  What a perfect combination of dessert.

No, no, of course one flavor isn't good enough. 
Now for the bad news.  Well, it's not bad considering what we ate.  John's is a place to go and dine, it's not a pizza joint but a Manhattan Restaurant. Considering we had more of a feast than a meal and 4, count them, 4 desserts, this wasn't all that bad.  Although I will be eating cereal for all my meals for the next week.
Cash or check only.
John's doesn't have the vegan menu published on their website yet but the link in the title is to menu pages where it is listed.

John's Restaurant on Urbanspoon


Ali - YumVeggieBurger said...

how timely! I've been considering going here for my birthday next week. I'm dying to try the vegan menu :)

Have to say, I'm shocked that this was the first time you'd tried Lula's ice cream though!!!

JL goes Vegan said...

Great review, Marty! I can't wait to go to John's. I think the prices are very reasonable.

Abby Bean said...

I agree with JL; the prices are extremely reasonable- especially given how much thought John's has put into both their menu creation and execution. Case in point: their seitan is housemade. This is both why they deserve extra credit AND why your wife loved it as much as you: QUALITY. Glad you enjoyed!

Marty said...

Ali, Happy Birthday!

JL, Yes, the prices are reasonable for that kind of restaurant but it's not the kind of thing I can do on a regular basis. Plus, although I want to support any mainstream restaurant that has a vegan menu, where does that leave my discretionary dollar for 100% vegan places? Oy.

Hi, I agree the value is definitely there. No question about the quality. Now we have to bring it down to McDonald's availability!