Thanks to local vegan institution, Dallas Vegan Roundup, I heard about Cucina; a “neighborhood Italian” restaurant that was hosting a special four course dinner in an effort to show the ever-growing Dallas vegan community just what they had to offer. The menu looked delicious, and it’s hard to find worthwhile vegan-friendly Italian food in these here parts, so I couldn’t pass it up! It’s a brilliant marketing move on Cucina’s part and it’s part of a growing trend of special vegan tasting dinners put on by omnivorous restaurants. The demand for more plant based foods is here, and it’s encouraging to see how well some restaurants are responding.
For only $25, you were able to choose one plate out of each category. I chose the Cold Carrot Wrapped Asparagus, and my boyfriend chose the Bruschetta Pomodoro for the first courses. When they arrived, we were really delighted by the simple and elegant presentation. The carrot and asparagus dish was for the most part flavorful and an interesting flavor contrast between the sweet balsamic syrup, grilled savory asparagus and slightly sweet thinly sliced carrots. The only thing I would have changed would be perhaps marinating the carrots with a smoky maple glaze; they were a bit on the bland side compared to the other flavors.
The Bruschetta Pomodoro tasted incredible, and was a stand out with the basil pesto. But the grilled bread itself wasn’t quite toasty enough in the middle and didn’t hold up well to the weight of the Pomodoro. Still, I would eat this again. Absolutely.
As for the second course, we chose both options to try and share. When I received my Heirloom Carrot Salad, I was surprised by the minimal ingredients and was hesitant at first to try it, fearing it would be bland. But the light and sweet citrus dressing was bright and sweet enough to balance out the sour aftertaste of fresh raw kale. The colorful carrots were marinated and still crunchy while bursting with flavors slightly different in each color, and the sprinkle of dried figs was such a nice touch. I do wish they had let the kale marinade a bit in the dressing before serving, though.
The Fried Tomato Salad, I wasn’t as pleased with. The breading on the “fried” tomatoes was flavorless and too thick. It was also a red tomato; green tomatoes are best for frying because their texture stays more in tact. Red ones turn mushy. It also seemed to need much more dressing and seemed generally dry. It was disappointing. They could definitely have a winner if they switch to a lighter batter, and green tomatoes.
Third course and main entree time! I had to choose the Stuffed Portobellos and my boyfriend chose the Tagliatelle Carciofo. I was so happy I made my choice once I took a bite of the marinated grilled portobello mushrooms stuffed with basil pesto pearl couscous. The mushrooms had an almost steak flavor with a slightly smoky essence in the taste from the grilling, and were very satisfying and meaty in texture. The pesto couscous was just flavorful enough to not overpower the mushrooms, and the added sprinkled fresh tomatoes and pine nuts gave it just the right amount of tasty variation. I want to come back for this entree, for sure.
The Tagliatelle Carciofo was light yet flavorful with the artichokes and kalamata olives resting on a bed of garlicky pasta bathed in basil infused olive oil. While speaking with the owner of the restaurant, he told me that infused oil is the real secret to super flavorful Italian vegan dishes, and I really couldn’t agree more. It’s sad that more places don’t use them.
We ended the night with fruity flavored house made sorbets in Peach and Blueberry. They tasted really authentic, and it was some of the best sorbet I’ve ever had. I will definitely be back, as most of the items from tonight are on their permanent menu from now on.