by M.B. Lewis
From the December, 2015 issue
If you dine out with vegans, you know that ordering a meal often involves more questions than an episode of Jeopardy. Is there meat in the soup or its broth? Butter in the cake? Lard anywhere? I'll never forget a harried stop at a freeway Cracker Barrel with my son's vegan roommate. With a menu not designed with vegans even distantly in mind, it was fraught with frustration. He'd have been happier if we'd just bought shelled peanuts and Oreos at a gas station for lunch.
Spiffed-up special-occasion meals are no time for endless Q&As, so I was intrigued to learn about the new white-linen and highly principled vegan Back2Roots Bistro on Main Street. Just a couple doors from Crazy Wisdom bookstore, it caters not just to vegans but also to eaters who avoid processed white sugars and flours, synthetic flavorings and dyes, and GMOs. The "roots" that co-owner Swaroop Bhojani says he's going back to are as ancient as the traditional Asian spices he imports.
An oncology research scientist by day, Bhojani says managing his own diabetes was part of the motivation behind the innovative vegan recipes he developed for his casual Hut-K Chaats on Packard, and now for Back2Roots.
I knew all the soups, entrees, sandwiches, and desserts would be preapproved for vegans and many other particular eaters. I wanted to know how mainstream diners would fare here.
There's a lot of good news on that front. All four soups we sampled were excellent; if I had to choose, I'd put the lightly curried mung bean and sprouted lentil first. The chili had lots of sprouted beans and flavorful tomato broth, with the spicing and full body you'd expect (although lots of big mushroom chunks might be a surprise). Special soups not listed on the menu included a hearty cabbage with smoky vegan "sausage" and a French onion with a light herbed broth.
The complex veggie burgers (made from scratch in house, like most everything else) arrive stacked colorfully
high with everything from red peppers to shredded carrots to avocado and topped with perky micro-greens. Of the two I sampled, the quinoa-dominant "Sunny Side Up" was eclipsed in flavor by a unique seared beet and sweet potato patty. First bites of the beet burger were impressive, its sweetness mitigated by the density and almost nutty flavor of the big bun made from sprouted grains. Fresh cucumber slices provided needed crispness but not enough to keep the texture compelling to the end. Luckily, a dining companion had ordered a wrap he was finding interesting but hard to finish; we swapped plates halfway through.
The wrap's "meat" was jerk-seasoned braised jackfruit. Again, the hearty density of the sprouted-grain wrap helped offset the sweet flavor and mushiness of the filling (which probably didn't need so much pineapple). Our server had told us, correctly, that the jackfruit looked and forked apart remarkably like pulled pork, but not that it was overpoweringly fruity. I'd recommend boosting the amount of jicama avocado slaw and giving the whole thing a blast of tart fresh lime.
Among the rice and noodle bowls, Himalayan basmati with crispy tofu, coconut curry, greens, and sturdy sprouted garbanzo beans seems a surefire pleaser for omnivores. I imagine vegans looking for fresh meal choices will be pretty excited by much of what they find throughout the inspired menu.
Because several of the entrees and juices at Back2Roots tasted sweet to me, I wasn't sure I wanted dessert. It didn't help to learn after dinner plates had been cleared that they were out of both decaf coffee and the intriguing-sounding cashew panna cotta. But I was not sorry to have rallied for sampling both the fresh-tasting coconut-fig-strawberry pie square and the remarkable chocolate terrine, with its dense cocoa flavor sweetened only by dates. Fresh blackberries and nuts were the garnish, giving a lovely finishing touch to the night.
Although clearly labor intensive to prepare, our meals seemed kind of pricey at lunch. The dinner menu is similar and even a bit higher priced, so it was surprising to see how much of a bargain the evening meal felt like when enjoyed leisurely in the quiet, nicely lit, and urbane space. Vegans and non-vegans alike should find plenty on the menu to discuss--and possibly ask about--at this elegant and visionary new dining option.
108 S. Main
Soups and salads $3.95-$14.95; bowls, burgers, and wraps $11.95-$14.95; desserts $5.95.
Mon-Sat. 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Closed Sun.
[Originally published in December, 2015.]
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