Thursday, October 30, 2008

Vegan tasting at Upstairs on the Square


For Anna's birthday last night we made our first trip to Upstairs on the Square. Older Cambridge hands will know it better as Upstairs at the Pudding(same owners), though now it's located in the building above Grendel's Den. I had never been to either incarnation, so I was quite intrigued to try it out. Now despite not being a vegan myself, I've complained in the past about the lack of fine dining options for vegans in Boston... it's nice to be able to take your vegan girlfriend out to nice dinners on occasion... but one of the advantageous of the aforementioned lackluster dinner with a pair of vegans was that they told us that fancy-schmansy Upstairs on the Square accommodates vegans happily. Normally our go-to option for a multi-course meal that Anna can enjoy is The Elephant Walk. I absolutely love The Elephant Walk, and their tasting menu is quite reasonably priced (though not cheap by any means), so this is no knock on them... but it's nice to have another option if you want to get really fancy. It's also pretty damn expensive, but the opportunity to get a five course meal with wine pairings that works for a vegan are pretty thin on the grass, and I think we were both kind of excited.

They don't have a specific vegan menu going right now(though they do have seasonal ones), but advertise their ability to adapt. Indeed, if you look at their posted menus for the Soiree Room(the more formal dining room with tasting menus), we got little pieces of each of the regular and vegetarian tasting menus adapted to be vegan. Here were the courses and a few comments, though don't expect anything on the wines since my palate only can express "mmm yummy" or "ick"(they were all yummy though):

Tempura Snap Peas
Avocado, Jicama & Soy Ginger Marinade

2005 Chardonnay, Chateau Laboure-Roi (Burgundy)*
They were served in those Japanese style soup spoons; just a pretty little pile of veggies in a spoon. It wasn't as difficult to eat as you might imagine. It was Anna's favorite dish of the whole meal, and I really loved the soy ginger marinade. Our waiter actually made a mistake though, and gave us the wine pairing for the next course here... we didn't realize it at the time, and frankly I didn't mind since I'm a barbarian when it come to wine, but they did take off the additional price of the tasting.

Roasted Baby Beets
Horseradish Panna Cotta, Passionfruit & Arugula

2004 Martinelli Vineyards Gewurtztraminer (Russian River)
I've always been a bit afraid of beets, from back when I was warring with all vegetables(which ended peaceably in my mid twenties, heh), so I was pretty surprised how delicious they were. The golden and regular beets were quite different in intensity, and the arugula and horseradish worked really well together with their spiciness, while the passion fruit helped keep that from getting out of hand. This course is the one pictured above, though it's not my picture and not my meal, it does appear representative.

Potage of Jerusalem Artichokes
Native Sorrel & Chive Oil

2006 Flora Springs Chardonnay (Napa)
This was my favorite course. It was amazingly creamy for something made without dairy products and had a wonderful flavor that was really complemented by the drizzle of chive oil.

Warm Artichokes & Harricots Verts
Black Truffle Vinaigrette

2004 Westerly Vineyards Merlot (Santa Ynez Valley)
Always a fan of green beans, even the fancy french version. I've never been much for artichokes, but these were perfect. They were very moist and tender, and I had no idea they were artichokes until Anna asked the waiter.

Fall Vegetables
Cardamom Wine Broth, Shitake Mushrooms & Mint

2006 Fleur Pinot Noir (Carneros)
This course was the only one that wasn't super awesome in my opinion. Ther cardamom broth was tremendous, and some of the vegetables were great, but it sort of ended up just being a pile of vegetables. Tasty vegetables, mind you, but it didn't seem quite as inspired as the other courses. Still quite good.

Sorbet and fruit
1993 Icardi Nonu Lino, Moscato (Castiglione, IT)
Not really a dessert guy, but the sorbet was tasty. All things being equal, I'd rather finish up a meal with a cognac or esspreso instead of sorbet and a dessert wine, but it was still nice.

So I think it's safe to say that we were both pretty blown away by the food, and while our waiter did flub our wine tasting a bit, he was very attentive and very apologetic for his mistake, correcting it as best he could without our prompting. I should note that I have seen some complaints about the service online, and I will note that it is clearly not at the L'Espalier level of well oiled machine of fine dining service. They seem to be mainly a bunch of kids who are trying really hard to be extra super nice, but haven't been through the traditional boot camp of Super French Waiter-ness. I'll admit, that when you are spending $50-100 per person, you are expecting something a little more than someone who is "really nice", but the food seemed well worth it to me and the funky theater vibe of the decor mades for a special night out. Your mileage may vary, of course.

picture of the roasted baby beets by flickr user eprescott used under a Creative Commons license