A few lucky vegans were invited to be part of a focus group for the upcoming restaurant Tapastrie in South Bend. We sampled 10 vegan dishes at the Fiddler’s Hearth while conversing with Tapastrie’s manager, Tom Welsh, and with chef Tony Nafrady.
Tapastrie will emphasize small plates on its menu, and Tom anticipates that a group of diners, such as our own group of six, will order a variety of dishes to share. The food is refined dining, while the atmosphere will be more informal and spontaneous. Tapastrie will be at the former Vine Restaurant location at 10 W. Colfax Ave.
Tapas is traditionally associated with Spanish cuisine, but Tapastrie will showcase Greek and other Mediterranean foods also. Some of these foods are naturally free of animal ingredients, and the chef has “veganized” others by replacing meat or dairy with plant-based ingredients.
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As the photos attest, all dishes were beautifully presented. Some of them were standard vegan fare, such as the hummus and the marinated veggies (green and yellow bell peppers, onion and squash). Others were standard dishes with a nice new tweak, such as the carrot-pineapple salad (with citrus dressing) and roast potatoes in coulis (tomato sauce with sage, parsley, thyme and rosemary). Still others were sophisticated gourmet creations, such as the tabouleh-stuffed roasted red pepper.
Excitement ran high in our group to be sampling such a variety of vegan foods. The group raved unanimously about the saffron-flavored paella, garnished with a variety of mushrooms (oyster, crimini, shiitake) and (vegan) chorizo-flavored tofu. Many also mentioned the tabouleh-stuffed peppers as a favorite. I particularly appreciated this dish for its painstaking sequential preparation, as it requires searing to remove the peppers’ skin, followed by marinating, and then stuffing with tabouleh and a final baking.
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The male participant in our group gave a top mention to the spinach plate (drenched in lemon-reduced balsamic vinegar, with garlic and slivered almonds) and the potatoes. Someone else mentioned the eggplant dip (not pureed but chopped). The Shishiedo peppers (one in every 10 or so is hot!) was a favorite for me and definitely a fun item.
I need to turn the spotlight on the dessert, peaches steeped in Calvados and topped with lemon sorbet. This was a satisfying but still light dessert plate. One small drawback I discussed with the chef was the unexpected bitterness in the peaches, but this should be easy to remedy.
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Other feedback was to add less oil to some of the plates (the eggplant, hummus and marinated veggies especially), and flavor enhancements to the coulis and eggplant dip. Some of the plates, like the spinach, are messier to share, and some creative solutions could address that. We also recommended that the hummus be made more piquant with some other flavor ingredients, because we tire of this routine vegan option we end up having to eat in most other restaurants.
In summary though, what a great idea by Tapastrie to invite vegans to taste-test their items. We are strong advocates for our food, and we hope that these dishes are enjoyed by everyone, vegans and non-vegans alike. We eagerly await the opening of Tapastrie.