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I've determined that if someone would cook vegetarian meals for me every day, I could easily go vegetarian. Great chefs can make beautiful alchemy happen with our plant-based friends.
I'm no great chef, and therefore can't be bothered to come up with brilliant ways to make veggies sing, day in and day out. So I'll just have to settle with dining out from time to time at fine vegetarian-leaning eateries like Mangetout in downtown New London.
Another confession: I'm very bad at getting my US RDA of fruits and vegetables. They require far too much prep for this gal (washing, peeling and chopping?!) and some of them smell funny (ahem, broccoli), so I tend to need to pull out all the culinary stops to convince myself to get my veg on. Enter lunchtime loopholes like the mango gazpacho I sampled on a recent Mangetout trip. Not only did this dazzlingly refreshing soup get a little fruit in me, but the addition of cucumbers scored another point on my nutritional board. The cukes offered pleasant, crisp texture and that lovely cooling effect from their mellow flavor. Peppers and onions rounded out the mixture, which, I'm told, got its soupy base from the clever addition of orange juice. A careful measure of cilantro added a superb finish to a great, great dish.
One of my other great vegetable-eating tricks is to get lots of them in at once, preferably via veggie burger. Mangetout offers a chickpea- and brown-rice-based patty, which is a nice alternative to your usual (read: boring) soy protein or mushroom patties. Zucchini and carrot add perfect texture to the patty base, which also benefits from a bit of curry powder. I'd suggest a heavier hand with the curry, but the burger is among one of the better ones I've tasted - partially thanks to the delicious bread it's served on. The house-made whole-wheat focaccia is absolutely terrific - as light as whole-wheat can be with tons of toasty flavor.
The beauty of just about everything at Mangetout is the guilt-free factor. Go ahead and order the taco salad. On a bed of greens, you'll get a dollop of refried black beans and a refreshing mix of cucumbers, green peppers, onion, and tomatoes, covered with a sprinkling of cheese and a serving of tortilla chips and salsa on the side. The salsa was a bit of a bore, but it's almost superfluous in this dish. Chips do just fine dipped in black beans sans salsa, and you come to find out that tomatoes and cukes go well with the beans, too. Before too long, I started opting for the veggies instead of chips as dippers.
But omnivores, take heart: Mangetout offers a handful of fish and chicken dishes, and if you like chicken salad (actually, even if you don't), the curry chicken salad wrap is a pleasant option. Chicken and tuna salads so often are victims of unimaginative cooks, bound to bore the masses in one mushy morass. Not so at Mangetout, where the house recipe calls for raisins, almond slices and celery to ensure a palatable, almost crunchy mixture. Bonus round? There's no mayonnaise soggifying this salad; instead, curry vegenaise holds it all together, and it gets the job done nicely.
And as a true omnivore, I also dig tofu, and when it's done well, it's possibly my favorite dietary loophole. Mangetout's Sesame Tofu and Asian Slaw wrap is most definitely done well. Firm, cold tofu tricked out in some serious tamari-ginger dressing meets up with a delightfully crisp slaw of carrot and cabbage. Balance is key in a dish starring a soft ingredient like tofu, so a well executed slaw like this one - dashed in so much zing from the dressing - becomes a match made in veggie heaven.
But back to that brilliant alchemy those great chefs can perform with plant-based ingredients. I'm not sure what goes into Mangetout's house-made vegan mocha-frosted chocolate cupcake, but I'll tell you this: I'll gladly forgo animal products in a dessert this satisfying. The light chocolate cake (which could've been more moist, but I certainly finished MY portion) stills hits the sweet tooth, and the mocha frosting and its nice coffee-like tinge make it abundantly clear that this is dessert time and not some anticlimactic experiment in carob.
Three things will happen if you try out Mangetout: you'll eat well no matter what you order off this mostly organic menu; you'll very likely try something you've never eaten before; and you'll feel fine about ordering dessert. Not a bad deal, even for the veggie-phobic.
On Twitter: @TheMDesk or http://twitter.com/TheMDesk
140 State Street
Cuisine: Locavore, organic, mostly vegetarian breakfast and lunch items
Atmosphere: Pleasant café atmosphere; small space but very comfortable
Prices: For the quality of ingredients in menu items, the prices are quite fair. Wraps and salads come in around $7.50.
Service: Friendly and knowledgeable
Credit cards: Visa, Master Card
Hours: Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Saturday lunch from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Sunday brunch from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Note: Mangetout is a BYOB eatery.