Sunday, January 20, 2008

TRUEBEN*: Vita Cafe



* See the note later on about cheese.

This was our first meal of the day, and being a Sunday afternoon there was a bit of a wait, so after snapping a few pictures we attacked the reuben pretty quickly. Everyone knows food tastes better when you're superhungry, so I wonder if this sandwich came off as extra-satisfying because of this. It was a fairly solid sandwich--pleasantly warm throughout (even the sauerkraut), a generous slab of tempeh, a single slice of vegan cheese, and a creamy vegan Thousand Islands dressing.

The dressing was easily the most impressive aspect of this reuben, substantial with bits of chives. But I'm a fan of spicy, tangy condiments and almost reached for the Aardvark hot sauce. I did ultimately think the sandwich was disappointingly bland. Though I'm not a devotee of store-bought fake cheeses, and in this case the cheese was basically undetectable, I have to give a place points for having vegan versions of all the traditional reuben components. Unfortunately, this seemed like a case where having all the traditional components wasn't enough. The dressing was not quite flavorful enough to compensate for the mild cheese and the tempeh, which seemed to be simply steamed and not marinated or spiced (I should note for those unfamiliar with tempeh that is does have a pleasant, nutty flavor on its own that many find quite meat-like, so it often works plain, especially in a sandwich---though you always want to cook it). But nothing really stood out about this sandwich. It probably would have benefited from a more pungent dark rye, instead of the marbled rye it was served on. As for the bread, the sandwich came warm off the grill, but the bread was still rather soft, and didn't hold together too well. Fortunately, the sandwich wasn't so juicy that it disintegrated, so I didn't find myself reaching for extra napkins.

Though many of Vita Cafe's portions are hearty, fries or a salad with your sandwich can run a couple bucks extra. $7 doesn't strike me as unreasonable for a reuben, but some other places will include a side for that much or just slightly more. As the menu listed the sandwich as including Swiss cheese, and the Vita Cafe isn't 100% vegan, I specified vegan cheese, and wasn't charged any extra. Though the wait was long (which you might expect on a wintry Sunday afternoon when the patio seating isn't available), the service was friendly and the food came pretty quickly. I enjoy the Vita Cafe and have always had pretty good experiences there, but I'd likely point my friends to the Great Grain Salad, Chicken-Fried Tempeh or Corn Cakes before recommending this sandwich.

B. split the sandwich with me (his second experience with a tempeh reuben) and thought it was decent, aside from the bread, which fell apart on him. As my partner in this endeavor, he knew what to expect, but even a great vegan reuben can be an unpleasant surprise for a meat-eating reuben aficionado. I don't think this sandwich is going to convert any omnis anytime soon.

We both gave this reuben 3 out of 5.

Vita Cafe
3024 NE Alberta
Reuben: $7. Restaurant offers a variety of vegan and non-vegan options, for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

Summary: Pluses - nice temperature, good filling ratios, extra points for a house-made dressing. Minuses - no sides or tasty garnishes (read: pickle), marbled rye didn't work so well, could have been more inventively seasoned.

Stay tuned in the coming weeks for a reuben recipe test and what will be the first of many experiments in ordering a "vegetarian" reuben vegan.

2 comments:

Vicki Jean said...

I had the vegan reuben at Vita a week or two back. I was really impressed. Good sandwich.

Also, why no linkluv for altportland.com?

Anonymous said...

I happened to be back at the Vita Cafe for dinner tonight and grabbed another reuben. They were using a different bread which was a much better choice for holding together and containing the fillings than the marbled rye that was used on our first visit. Having experienced a wider variety of vegan reubens I'd have to say this one is ok, but could benefit from the use a spicier dressing and some sort of side. Even something as simple as a pickle would really add a lot to the experience.

-b