Omaha, Nebraska, USA
Food style: swanky, vegan comfort food/small menu with seasonal, local offerings
Veg Scale: all vegan, GF labels
Craving some NYC restaurant-quality in the middle of the heartland? Look no further than this unassuming half-block in the middle of Omaha. I was in for a surprise as I didn’t realize that this delicious destination was owned and operated by none other than the vegan cooking goddess herself, Isa Chandra Moskowitz, best-selling author of vegan classics such as Veganomicon (aka The Vegan Cooking Bible), Vegan With A Vengeance, Vegan Cupcakes Take Over The World and her newest Isa Does It, among others. You NYers will be pleased to hear, if you don’t know already, that she will be opening a 2nd location for this gastronomic wonderland in Williamsburg (Brooklyn) in early 2016. Cheers, Isa!
Sharing a building with a local hole-in-the-wall pub, the exterior belies the cozy and whimsical atmosphere within. Walls adorned with various sized vintage mirrors, hand painted decals and modern lighting fixtures invite the feeling of sitting in the home of a good friend about to enjoy a home-cooked meal, if your friend was Alice and you, The Cheshire Cat J Perfect portions arrive in white china bowls and plates large enough to curl up in for a post indulgence nap. Tables snuggle up quite closely with each other inspiring food voyeurism and friendly banter amid bites.
Chris wet his whistle with a little Ginger Shandy action pre-meal. With my gluten sensitivity preventing me from enjoying a beer now and again, I still chanced a sip and was pleased to be hit with the subtle tartness of the grapefruit juice perfectly balancing the bitter hops. With a nice cloudy appearance it afforded a thicker mouth feel on the tongue making for the perfect summer drink.
We chose a classic soup and salad combo for our shared openers. The Soup of the Day was a Corn and Roasted Red Pepper Chowder (GF), which acted as the perfect swimming pool for the Noochy (nutritional yeast) Croutons that came with the Kale Caesar (GF when made without the croutons). The soup had a wonderful creamy, bisque-like texture that wasn’t too thick or heavy and was dotted with bits of roasted corn kernels and red bell peppers. An added zip from the peppers perfectly balanced the sweetness of the corn, all further accentuated by a light drizzle of seasoned oil across the top.
The Kale Caesar (GF option) was a dino delight with the large, thin leaves layered atop one another delicately doused with a zesty tahini caper dressing. The salty goodness of the capers added a brackish authenticity to the Caesar dressing sans anchovies. Adding a little protein crunch to the mix were the quinoa and pumpkin seeds that politely interacted with bits of avocado bringing the whole dish together in a big, creamy hug. I plucked the croutons out and delivered them to Chris’ half of the soup, much to his culinary satisfaction, and all was well in the Land of Appetizers.
Next up on our journey were our respective entrees: Chris dove into the Gnocchi while I consumed the Mac & Shews (GF). Having already had a sip of the Shandy, I figured a bite of the Gnocchi wouldn’t make much of a difference to my level of gluten reaction that evening. Caramelized strips of fennel, plump cherry tomatoes, soft edamame and tangy arugula danced amid the homemade gnocchi swimming in a light, savory broth. Gnocchi can easily become gummy and heavy, but these doughy bits of goodness were soft and pillowy, easy to chew and took on the subtle flavors of the rest of the dish. Each piece of the puzzle was lightly seasoned, every flavor complementing the other as bite by bite the combo grows on you until you yourself feel as though you are happily swimming alongside the very dough balls you are consuming! This all I gained from one bite so I can only imagine enjoying the entire dish! Perched atop this Italian dome was a dollop of truffled almond ricotta, completing the sheer sensuality of this dish. If you know me, and hopefully by now you do, you know that there isn’t much in this world that you could truffle that I wouldn’t like. Except maybe a tire. Something tells me that wouldn’t work out well. But I digress.
The truffled ricotta would have been an incredible addition to the cashew cheddar sauce in the Mac & Shews (GF) I enjoyed. I love a multi-cheez mix with a crispy breadcrumb topping for my most decadent mac & cheez escapades, though this version came in decidedly close, its palate more complex than simply rich. The gluten free noodles were not thick or stiff and soaked up the smokiness of the sauce. The cheddar could have been a little thicker and creamier for my taste and was comparable in texture to the classic Kraft blue box (without the processed animal byproducts). The pecan-crusted tofu was the perfect replacement for a breadcrumb crust, soft on the inside and very crisp on the outside, while the braised kale added an element of green goodness. The BBQ cauliflower stood out enough to be its own side dish, its sweet brown singed edges caramelizing in perfect harmony with the smokiness of the sauce. All the textures and flavors – smoky and sweet, soft and crunchy – combined for a complex palate and mouth feel that kept my tongue guessing and my taste buds dancing for the entirety of the evening. That is until… dessert… where all things savory are promptly forgotten.
That being said, I’m not one for too-sweet sweets so I opted for the Chocolate Peanut Butter Tart (GF) as I was assured it was a rich dark chocolate and not milky at all. A wide but thin slice of pie greeted me and was much harder to put my fork into than I would have expected. Described as a chocolate ganache with a peanut butter mousse, I was expecting a softer experience, but instead was met with the consistency of a vegan Crunch Bar in pie formation. Do not let this mislead you into thinking I did not thoroughly enjoy this crunchy pastry. The candied peanuts encased in the bitter dark cacao added texture while the lightness of the peanut butter mousse topping was a welcome contrast to the hardness of the tart itself. The shortbread crust reminded me of some sort of cookie from my childhood, a little sweet, but not overly so. It had clearly come directly out of the fridge or freezer, which makes me interested to try it again once it has thawed a bit longer.
Interesting flavor combinations, seasonal influences and a touch of love that is evident in every dish’s home cooked roots ensure that you will leave with a satisfied tummy and heart. Though I would have loved to have more variety as far as gluten free options, overall I thoroughly enjoyed my meal at Isa’s table and hope to someday return the favor.
I am an actor/writer/content creator based in Los Angeles. I travel extensively both as the host of the new vegan food travel show The Road Less Eaten and on my own. This blog will chronicle my journey around the globe as I hunt down all the vegan options in every part of the world, no matter how big the city nor small the town.
Copyright © Ally Iseman 2016. I own my awkward. Thanks for enabling me.