Eating vegan at a swanky new bar versus a more established local eatery

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By: Rama Ganesan

Rama Ganesan/Vegan at the Bend

I know we have already have had a Vegan at the Bend blog about The Crooked Ewe, but I have been there twice recently and want to compare and contrast it with another restaurant that has been recommended to me, Cambodian Thai. I visited the latter for the first time just recently.

There is a reason why I want to compare the two. We have written about Crooked Ewe and the soon-to-be-opened Tapastrie. Both of these have been implicitly categorized as somewhat upscale restaurants, with vegan menus accessible for the more privileged among us.

Quite apart from the pricing, both restaurants are positioned as breweries/wine bars in refurbished or ‘gentrified’ premises, whereas Cambodian Thai has no liquor license and a rather modest interior. I thought it might be informative to compare my experience eating two somewhat similar dishes at the Ewe and at Cambodian Thai.

By ‘similar’ I am referring to the fact that they were both vegetable stew dishes eaten with rice. For me this is a natural way of eating vegan, compared to the veggie meat dishes that the Ewe is pioneering. But that is a topic for another blog. Today I am comparing the Tso – a tempura cauliflower dish at the Ewe – with the Cashew Nuts and Masaman Curry, both at Cambodian Thai.

Let me cut to the chase and say all dishes were delicious!

I originally ordered the Ewe Tso without rice as a small plate, and it is difficult to eat on its own because of the intensity of flavors. Kimchi fried rice is another delicious item and they do go well together.

At Cambodian Thai, the curry and cashew nuts were excellently prepared, and served with white rice.

I did get an odd flavor of something fishy in the Cambodian Thai dishes, but the waiter assured me that everything was prepared on surfaces clear of animal products. The Ewe similarly prepares vegan foods on uncontaminated surfaces.

Now, I am not a ‘purity’ vegan – I am a vegan for justice – but in this case I didn’t really like the slight tinge of something animal. To be fair, the server at Cambodian Thai did inform us of specific dishes that contained fish sauce and guided us carefully. So I am unsure what that fishy or animal taste was.

Ultimately, as far as the entrée is concerned, it was a toss-up — all delicious. But let’s look at the other factors.

The Ewe has specialty beers and some wine, which definitely add to the experience of dining out not possible in a place like Cambodian Thai. The Ewe does not have other drinks though, like cocktails, and I am not sure they will be forthcoming. I also ate dessert at the Ewe, and not at Cambodian Thai. So the experience at the Ewe is multifaceted.

The price of the Tso with Kimchee Rice is $16 at the Ewe, pretty steep compared to the two dishes at Cambodian Thai, each at $7.95.

The Ewe is exciting, but perhaps too much so. It is awfully loud and after a while I quit trying to converse with my table mates. The Ewe staff promised that they will soon get sound baffling on their walls. I certainly hope so.

There is a definite excitement around the Ewe, and I am watching to see how long that persists. From what I hear, they have already presented a new menu for this month, which is great for keeping interest levels high.

So, here’s my own takeaway. If I want a quick, delicious, and inexpensive vegan meal, I’ll  go to Cambodian Thai. If I want to a more fashionable experience with all the trappings of dining out, I’ll go to the Ewe.

Remember, though, that the Ewe is noisy and you can’t really talk — but that is part of the price you pay for the experience, a bit like the long lines outside the trendy night clubs.

For more tips and tales of dining vegan in Michiana from Rama Ganesan and her fellow meatless maven Crystal Hallwood, sign up for the Vegan at the Bend email newsletter.
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