Wednesday, April 16, 2008
TRUEBEN: The Red and Black
B. was a bit miffed that I delayed sampling the Red and Black's tempeh reuben for so long. He was eager to try the sandwich, and the restaurant in general, after hearing me rave about it as pretty much the inspiration for this blog. This Southeast Portland worker-owned cafe's tempeh-mushroom reuben was the first vegan reuben I'd ever had out, and it pretty much blew me away. True, it was directly after Bridge Pedal, I was famished, and I went crazy and got a side salad and a delicious cup of their vegan chili with it, so it was nearly the perfect meal. But I was afraid to review it too early on in this blog, because I truly believed it would trump all others, and sort of what's the point of continuing on if you've already had the best?
Well, I'll say this. B. was not disappointed. And with a 4.5, the Red and Black's reuben does have the highest score we've awarded. But it's with bittersweet sentiment that I say, yes, there is room for improvement. And I'll also add, perhaps my vision is clouded with nostalgia, but it was a slight let down after the awesome experience I had that first time.
As you may know, the Red and Black Cafe for years was located near the intersection of 22nd and SE Division. That was where I had the reuben the first time, and I'll chalk it up to extremely experienced staff: the presentation was better and the construction and the balance of ingredients were better. But like I said, despite these two differences, the reuben we had recently at the Red and Black's new location on SE 12th was still pretty awesome.
I think the highlight is the vegan dressing; it's tart and creamy, probably chock full of veganaise. It's creaminess (not runny at all) contributes to a sandwich that holds together very well -- a trait B. continually appreciates. The protein component is great, too, a mixture of tempeh and mushrooms, nicely complementary flavors that B. noted wasn't too heavy on the mushroom taste. I was excited to see that the Red and Black now makes their own kraut, which in my mind gives them extra points and thus makes this a virtual 5 on the scale from 1 to 5. The kraut was great, refreshing and slightly sweet, I did wish there was more of it. The bread was a light rye with a taste of caraway. Very similar to the bread at Veganopolis--a really dark rye doesn't seem very common in this town. The bread was toasty and warm and was probably heated on a sandwich press or grill pan.
I found the tempeh filling a little too salty for my taste, though B. didn't seem to think so. Other than that, the only other thing I found lacking was that I felt the amount of dressing was disproportionate to the other two components---definitely would have liked more kraut, and it might have balanced the saltiness of the tempeh a little. And surprisingly, we both noted on the somewhat sad presentation when the sandwich arrived. I never thought I would rate a sandwich on how it looked, but I guess after Veganopolis and other attractive sandwiches we sampled, we couldn't help but notice the sort of slipshod arrangement. I, perhaps incorrectly, also attribute this to the somewhat new, though friendly and helpful, staff.
All in all, the Red and Black tempeh reuben still comes out on top. Though not as impressive as my first experience with it, this remains a sandwich I could eat again and again. A difference between the old and new locations that I appreciate is that the Red and Black seems to be going entirely vegan -- if reubens aren't your thing, check out their other sandwiches, salads, soups and their dragon noodle bowl. The daily special always seems like a great deal as well.
4.5 out of 5 (though really a 5, probably)
Red and Black Cafe
SE 12th and Oak
Tempeh mushroom reuben. About $7, I think. Comes with a pickle and corn chips, or add soup or salad for $2.
Worker-owned coffee shop and restaurant located a block from the vegan mini-mall. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Many vegan options and mostly organic. A nice community gathering spot as well.