Plum Bistro is a new Seattle restaurant that caters to vegans and vegetarians.
My dining companion was beside herself with glee. “I can’t believe I can have everything on this menu!” she exclaimed.
She wasn’t being greedy or gluttonous, and she’s not plagued with food allergies. She’s a vegetarian, which means her options on many restaurant menus are limited to certain salads or pastas or the token vegetarian entree.
Vegans are even more constrained. Remove the protein component from that vegetarian dish (usually cheese) and what’s left is too frequently just a plate of vegetables.
At Plum, the nifty new vegan bistro in the Pike/Pine corridor, the menu is, dare I say, somewhat meatier. There’s seitan steak, burgers made with tempeh or tofu, sliders packed with smoky quinoa, a seitan-stuffed BBQ Po’Boy and grilled teriyaki tofu kebabs.
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There’s even a ‘strami on rye panini. It’s tofustrami with vegan cheese, but it’s doused so liberally with spicy yellow mustard even a deli diva would agree it’s pretty good — for a fake.
As an omnivore, I got my hopes up when the waiter promised the Southern-fried seitan steak would be “just like fried chicken.” It wasn’t. Seitan (wheat gluten) simply doesn’t chew like chicken. Still the cornmeal crust had a nice crunch and the white gravy was robust with pepper, mushrooms and herbs.
I prefer tempeh (cooked, slightly fermented soybean cake), which I think comes closer to resembling the taste and texture of meat. I liked the Cajun-spiced, cornmeal-breaded tempeh burger far more than the spongy seitan in the Po’Boy, though the latter, soused in a sharply acidic barbecue sauce, benefitted from its trappings: a toasted Essential Bakery seeded baguette and lots of pickled red onion. Both sandwiches came with irresistible yam fries, skinny and sweet and dribbled with garlic sauce.
Plum’s sauces and salad dressings have so much personality they often elevate the dish. Green tomato and avocado salsa smothering fried green tomatoes managed to be both sharply tart and smoothly creamy. Searing, smoky aioli added heat to salty fried okra nuggets that already possessed plenty of Cajun warmth.
A creamy jalapeño-spiked dressing — sort of a sassy Green Goddess — cloaked Mama Africa, a busy, bountiful salad accented with smoked millet and quinoa. Hidden among the red and green lettuces were avocado, orange segments, apple slices and fresh (if not entirely ripe) figs, plus strips of tempeh bacon that were, to quote my vegan dinner guest, “good for tempeh, weak for bacon.”
Smoked seitan flavoring excellent collard greens did a much better imitation of ham, while Mac ‘n’ Yease (made with nutritional yeast flakes) is surely a vegan’s guilty pleasure. The texture was just right, but I missed the cheese.
Eggplant linguine, the sort of dish you might find anywhere, was oddly bland despite a jalapeño vodka sauce, and the eggplant was bitter. A spicier tomato sauce enlivened cabbage-wrapped bundles of scrambled tofu, wild rice and mushrooms, but the cabbage was a little tough. The kitchen has an admirable tendency to undercook, rather than overcook vegetables, but sometimes, as with the cabbage and a side of still-crunchy Swiss chard, softer is better.
Plum shares the first floor of the Piston & Ring building with La Spiga, which supplies them with vegan pizza dough. The creative chef/owner Makini Howell was raised in a vegan household. Her other restaurant, Hillside Quickie Café, is one of a trio of vegan cafes owned by family members, all of them well-regarded by vegans and vegetarians. Props to Howell for taking vegan fare upscale.
Techno rock, blues and mellow world music take turns bouncing off the hardwood floor and the concrete wall. In warm weather the garage-door front opens fully to the manic scene at 12th and Pike.
The mood is softened with candles and fresh flowers on the tabletops. Water is poured into elegant stemless goblets, as are the half-dozen vegan wines offered by the glass or bottle.
The easygoing staff is still a little green, as is two-month-old Plum. Both are likely to ripen in time.
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