New D.C. vegan restaurant review

When we were in DC for the ASPO conference we were so glad to get out each night to enjoy the wide offering of restaurants. Here in Staunton, Virginia, where we produce Transition Voice, we’ve got a lot of cool cultural amenities, with some amazing locavore restaurants in particular. But only a little bit that’s vegan, and even less international.

Cafe Green

Image: Cafe Green

Before heading up, I Googled to find out where I could eat something specifically vegan and was psyched to find Cafe Green, DC’s newest vegan, vegetarian, and raw restaurant from Java Green. They have a pretty amazing website, including mouth watering menu item descriptions. After joining their Facebook page I got an update on new fall dishes, which was darn good outreach in my view, showing they were proactive on marketing and online engagement.

I was totally looking forward to eating there.

The Little Grill Collective

On our way to DC, through the Shenandoah Valley, we stopped at The Little Grill Collective in Harrisonburg, Virginia for a vegan lunch. I fell in love with the food, the quirky employees, and the oddball character of the place. I really dug that they’ve been worker owned and operated since 2003—and those little communists can really cook! If you’re ever in the area, check ‘em out.

I had the vegan chili and what I thought was a vegan “chef” salad, but it had cheese on it, so after picking out the cheddar shreds, I enjoyed a very full, very fresh, delicately flavored salad, chomping to my heart’s delight. The lemon tahini dressing could have used a bit more oomph, maybe some more onion, salt, and parsley, but otherwise was balanced.  I finished it all off with a vegan chocolate chip cookie to-go, though it was a bit too banana-y for my liking—maybe something else would make a decent binder?

Folks enjoying a birthday party at the Little Grill Collective

A birthday party at the Little Grill Collective. Photo: Little Grill Collective.

The Little Grill decor rocked the eclectic down home look, from the bean bas relief collage depicting the Last Supper to the black velvet Jimi Hendrix. I can’t wait to go back for their brunch. I’m only about 85% vegan (for carbon footprint and health reasons mostly) and I’m sure I’ll be getting some kind of loaded veggie omelet or another.

Cafe Green

But back to Cafe Green. It was packed on that Wednesday night. There was no wait, but they were really slammed, and while we got great service, overall the vibe felt a bit too urgent. I was also nonplussed with the setting, which was minimal to the point of lacking any flavor. Bright fresh wall colors, but no soul. It’s not that I’m more fond of black velvet Jimi Hendrixes or anything, but I do crave some kind of feel that has the power to transport, even through the right stroke of minimalism.

Our food was good, but not soaring. We ordered a kimchee appetizer, which seemed bitingly overly spiced, and some raw bread which was substantive and grounding, especially to tone down the kimchee.

Since we were already planning to do Indian, Vietnamese, Turkish, and Japanese while in town, I decide to pass up an internationally inspired dish. Instead I ordered the vegan “cheeseburger”.  It was definitely good, hued grainy flavors with a piquant herbal undertone, one of the better patties of that sort that I’ve had. But looking back, I wish I had gotten something a bit more adventurous, with more flavor, textures, and contrast. Erik had the veggie paella and sadly, he too found the dish uninspired and bland.

Perhaps my expectations were too high, or perhaps they were too crowded that night to give the food time to flavor out, but it was the least stellar meal of all those we had while in DC. I would go again because the menu items sound so convincingly good, and there are so few vegan choices that you want to be able to go to a place that has lots to offer in raw, gluten free, vegan, and vegetarian. And they’re new—maybe they’re still getting the place right. Next time I’ll hope for more mellow flavoring and atmosphere, perhaps choosing a slower night to see if that allows for a more gently unfolding mood.

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