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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The “V” List




La Finestra and THE Chef Ramsey

Once a month, we go out for dinner with our BFFs Mary Evelyn and Jesse Dees and once a month we go through the same ritual…”WHERE DO WE GO THIS TIME?” Since I’m the kink in things, being vegan, the discussion typically starts with “Where can YOU get vegan options that are not ‘we can throw some sides together for you’?  The other big issue for us is NOISE…if a restaurant is so loud we can’t converse with our friends, we don’t go back but that’s a whole ‘nuther story.

That being said, over the past couple of years, the restaurant community in metropolitan Jackson area (including Ridgeland and Madison) has begun to embrace and respond to those of us who choose to be plant based in our eating. AND, we have been quick to acknowledge those restaurants for sure…

We try to stay pretty varied in our selections but the list is a bit narrow. We have a tendency to go to the same places where we KNOW what is available.  This month’s selection opportunities proved to be no different from our typical discussion until the suggestion was made to try La Finestra.  We had heard really good things about this restaurant from friends (e.g., “It’s the closest thing to Tuscany you can find here”) but were leery of the Italian penchant for pasta, cheese and veal dishes, not exactly a vegan’s dream. But, we decided to try it.  So, I called to make reservations and asked what options were available for a vegan. Boy, right off the bat, I knew we’d made a good choice…the person I spoke with responded with enthusiasm and excitement, saying, “we have several vegetarian and vegan customers and are happy to prepare something for you”.  OK—so now I’m excited. 

THE Chef Ramsey and me
We are early diners, so arrived at our reservation time of 6:00 p.m. We have found that to avoid the dreaded noise factor, earlier works best. I think we were the first folks of the evening to show up and Chef Ramsey actually greeted us.  He asked who the vegan was so I ‘fessed up. Chef said he would get us seated and then return to talk about what options were on the table (no pun intended). So, the host seated us and while we waited for our BFFs, Chef Ramsey came over, pulled up a chair and proceeded to outline ideas. I was already SOLD…I have NEVER had a chef take such personal interest to the point of sitting down, face to face and telling me how much he enjoyed the challenge of preparing vegan cuisine. Right off the bat, he said that his pasta dishes were out as all of their pasta is made on site and does contain eggs. BUT, I was actually glad of that…although I like pasta, it is calorie intense (for me anyway) and I would much prefer a more creative approach to an entrée—which is EXACTLY what I got.

Everyone else settled on salads/soup and entrees and we enjoyed cocktails as we waited; good cocktails at that. Entrees ranged from chicken (Big Solid) to Mary Evelyn’s shrimp (and we aren’t talking shrimp sized shrimp, we’re talkin’ BIG shrimp oxymoron that it is) and Jesse’s veal dish. Our server, Seth, was attentive, prompt and knowledgeable about the restaurant offerings.

Insalata Estiva
So, my salad was called Insalata Estiva and consisted of living lettuce, blackberries, orange wheels, ground cherries, radishes, lemon cucumber, and a lovely, light orange vinaigrette.  I dove into it so quickly that I forgot to take a picture as it was served.
 
My entrée was a grilled Golden Lantern squash (like a squash steak), grilled romaine, fried Japanese eggplant, fried carrot tops, plated with splashes of chive oil, smoked paprika oil and a great taste enhancer, lemon ash. Chef Ramsey explained that lemon ash is the lemon pith/peel (whatever is not used) that is roasted til it’s charred and then ground into ash. Used sparingly, it delivers a lovely lemony smell and hint. It was YUMMY!
Entree--it was delicious!! And beautifully presented.

 Needless to say, we enjoyed our first dinner at La Finestra and know with certainty that it won’t by our last. By the time we left the restaurant, having no room for the lovely sounding desserts (besides, I had homemade dairy free chocolate coconut ice cream waiting at home), the restaurant was full. It was so nice to see folks coming to downtown Jackson (the corner of E. Amite and Congress, across from the Governor's Mansion)…such is the draw of good food and good service. http://www.eatlafinestra.com/

So we add La Finestra to The “V” List as a go to place. I look forward to more creative endeavors by Chef Ramsey.  La Finestra is now in the rotation with Anjou (Chef Daryl always hits a home run), Bravo! (ditto Chef Matt) and Capitol Grill (Chef Lance). We hope The "V" List will continue to grow. Those of you who read this blog who are local, please let us know of your faves as well.

One thing I would like to throw on the table is the exploration of dishes that use seitan, tofu, and/or tempeh as entrée potentials.  I invite folks to look at the menus of two of my most favorite restaurants, Laughing Seed http://laughingseed.jackofthewood.com/  and Plant http://plantisfood.com/ both in Asheville NC.


This ‘n That stuffs
We were sad to see that the 7 course dinner event planned for Monday July 14th at Bravo! spearheaded by Chef Matt Mabry was canceled. Unfortunately, not everyone was aware of the cancellation.  Maybe next time, a more formal response will be necessary to make sure that there are a) enough patrons to make it happen and b) provide a structure for enhanced communication in the event things change.

The consensus of those I’ve spoken with seems to point to the price of the dinner.  Even with acknowledging the enormous amount of work and creativity that would be involved in putting this event on, the price of $68 per person (and that did not include wine/beer pairings) was just a bit hefty and probably was the key factor in the lack of response.  That in no way impacts the weekly Vegan Thursday night dinners which continue to be quite successful.
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One of the best overall sites we’ve found in a long time is called One Green Planet.  It a kind of clearinghouse of information and resources, vegan recipes and links to cool vegan sites.  They have a daily newsletter that you can sign up for and I almost always find something fun, entertaining or interesting to read OR a recipe that looks phenomenal.

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On a final note for this posting, you know—there is some phenomenon in the universe that
CSA bounty
assures that IF you learn a new word, such as oxymoron or tautology, it’s a pretty good bet that you will hear that word used within 24 hours (yes, even tautology).  Not sure how that particular magic occurs, but it does. Well, the same applies to food stuffs!! For a few weeks now, we’ve been getting ground cherries from Jonathan Picarsic at Amorphous Gardens and they are delicious; we eat them like popcorn. Never had seen or heard of them before this summer. So, at La Finestra the other night, what should appear in my salad but GROUND CHERRIES!! See—magical forces at work. Turns out that Chef Ramsey buys the ground cherries from Jonathan…
 
Have a very special week. Eat healthy and try one meal as a vegan.

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