Do what you love. Know your own bone; gnaw at it, bury it, unearth it, and gnaw it still. Henry David Thoreau
When I heard that a vegetarian grill was opening in NoLibs this month, I made reservations for opening night. The online menu looked inventive and fresh, so I had high expectations for Thoreau. Matt wasn’t all too thrilled to be going out to eat to a place with no meat on the menu, but he dealt with it in good spirits.
Thoreau is a small space on Spring Garden (across from the massive and garish Spaghetti Warehouse) with classic decor. We seem to be experiencing tight seating recently and our general thought was that two or three tables could have been taken out of Thoreau to make diners more comfortable and the service more smooth. It was a very close call when a couple sat at the table behind us–our coats barely fit on our chairs because they were so close together.
The pace of the service was leisurely–I wouldn’t expect to eat in under 2 hours at Thoreau, which is fine for us. The wait staff was very (Matt’s word: overly) attentive, but I’m sure nerves were playing a part in that.
My major pet peeve was that when our first set of plates was cleared, our silverware wasn’t. Nothing irks my OCD nature more than dirty silverware lying on a clean, white tablecloth. Please work on this.
One other awkward aspect that I didn’t even notice (Matt notices these things) was that when guests walked in the front door, staff greeted them, took their name, walked to the back of the restaurant, checked the reservation, got the menus, walked back up to the front, and seated the guests. According to Matt, you should never leave a guest waiting longer than 15 seconds in a situation like this, and guests waited much longer. Maybe this kink will get worked out with time as well.
On to the food. I would have been happy with the appetizer and desserts only, because they were the best dishes and I was too full to enjoy my entrée.
First up, the sliders:
(Ratatouille in basil pumpkin seed pesto, creamy Spanish manchego cheese, red pepper aioli, Belgian frites. $10.75)
These were scrumptous. Perfect buns with a little layer of crust, soft innards, and a slight sheen of butter coating. The flavors burst with freshness, the avocado was perfectly ripe, the aioli creamy. Say it with me, Top Chef fans: “You don’t miss the meat!” Off to a great start with these delectable minis. The frites weren’t quite up to the standards set by the sliders. A bit more like string potatoes, I missed the potato taste and just got some manchego (which isn’t so bad, of course) and crunch.
So I was indeed full after the sliders, but waited anxiously for our main courses. I got the falafel:
(In lovish, with smoked red pepper hummus, cucumber-yogurt, tomato relish, young spinach. Served with baby greens in chili-lime vinaigrette. $15.75)
I am still a bit confused about this dish, as the flavor was not exactly what I was used to falafel tasting like. There was a lot on this plate–I was overwhelmed just looking at it. I could only finish one of the wraps and half of the salad. The nuttiness of the chick peas was a bit lost in all of the other flavors, as the hummus was particularly strong and overpowering and the wrap, well, wrapped around a lot. I am looking forward to eating my leftovers for dinner to see if, on an empty stomach, I enjoy this a bit more.
Matt ordered the Wild Mushroom Risotto:
(Creamy pumpkin-green apple Arborio rice risotto hides molten basil mascarpone, surrounded by a riot of wild and exotic oyster and shiitake mushrooms in ancho chile marsala broth. $20.75)
All from Matt:
The risotto tasted good but was not really mushroom risotto. The brown sauce hid all of the creamy arborio goodness that we normally associate with risotto and the few wild mushrooms were whole and on the side. Not a “riot” of mushrooms, really.
The desserts were out of this world amazing. What a way to end the meal.
(Hazelnut Toffee Basket chocolate buttercream mousse, bruleed bananas, hazelnut oatmeal tuille cookie. $6.75) Creamy and chocolately mousse, sweet and caramely bananas, inventive cookie. Very rich, very sweet, very good.
(Pineapple Empanadas blackberry sorbet, mango-papaya salsa, caramel $6.75) Yum yum yum. The empanadas were fancy street food at its best. Crispy but doughy, not too sweet, hot pineapple insides. These went great with the caramel and fresh salsa. The blackberry sorbet was perfect and could have been its own dessert. We weren’t sure how it went with the caramel, but just a minor detail.
Overall, a mixed review of Thoreau, I believe. I think if some kinks are worked out in the service and the portions are controlled a bit more, this will be a fun place for healthy and inventive veggie dishes. I’d keep going back for the sliders and desserts. Try it out–I can’t wait to hear people’s reactions to the rest of the menu.