I have to admit I have a bias against vegan food on the sheer basis that I have an unhealthy craving for all things dairy. That said, vegan food does exist and it exists for honorable reasons. The Vegan Society, which first coined the term "vegan" in 1944, according to its website, "remains as determined as ever to promote vegan lifestyles—that is, ways of living that seek to exclude, as far as is possible and practical, all forms of exploitation of animals for food, clothing or any other purpose."
When I look at it that way, I begin to seriously reconsider my fromage fetish. With that in mind, I wandered into Vegan Santa Fe for lunch.
Serving in the breakfast room of the Casa del Toro Bed & Breakfast, Vegan Santa Fe's Mariela Rodriguez offers both vegan and raw vegan cuisine. Her menu changes weekly and is published online for previewing and for what seems to be a very robust call-in/pickup business.
Sadly, McKenzie and the adjacent streets all have residential-only parking restrictions, so dine-in service might benefit more those who live or work within walking distance. Having only been open for three months, the restaurant inevitably has kinks and quirks that, given time and focus, will easily work themselves out. It's Rodriguez' sweet nature and sincere attention that will smooth over any bumpy patches.
I began lunch with a cozy cup of Pigeon Peas Soup ($3) and a multigrain biscuit ($1), but at noon the biscuits were not yet done baking. Happily, the multigrain chapati that came instead was divinely crispy and hearty so the biscuit went forgotten.
The rest of the meal varied from Punjab eggplant with brown basmati rice ($8) to a Mexican chipotle "sausage" wrap ($6)—a piquant, raw, veggie-filled bonanza that both surprised and pleased with its rich spicy flavor and generous size. Even though I have always been a self-described food authenticist and have previously shunned anything that was deliberately trying to disguise itself as something else, eg Tofurky, my prejudice was temporarily abolished by the Mexican chipotle "sausage." I would definitely eat that again and again because it was just plain good—vegan, raw vegan or not.
Which brings me to my conclusion about Vegan Santa Fe: Because the food is vegan, it is specific and intentional, but it is also clearly delivered with tender care by its creators—Rodriguez and Mother Nature. The slight ingredient variations (my order of Punjab eggplant contained mostly sweet potatoes instead of eggplant) and the substitutions (I ordered banana sherbet but got a creamy macadamia nut one instead) would perhaps be less objectionable if either the menu were less descriptive or Rodriguez had the additional support and resources to publish the menu daily to reflect changes.
But despite the deviations from the published menu, in the end, the items I sampled were generally tasty to an open mind and receptive palate. Perhaps another type of patron would find the replacements inadequate to sate their expectations and cravings, but Vegan Santa Fe doesn't strike me as the type of place those types of people go. If there is ever any just reason for eavesdropping, it was simply to overhear Rodriguez kindly offer to make something custom for another diner, who had strict dietary restrictions.
Beyond the ethical philosophy underlying whether creatures—we humans—have a right to farm, collect, milk, kill, use or eat other creatures, there is also the importance of personal and global health, environmental sustainability and harmony between all living things. Any patron who considers the magnitude of those subjects is also someone who is attracted to and appreciative of a leisurely and spontaneously constructed meal at Rodriguez' devoted hands.
Vegan Santa Fe
Open for lunch 11 am-3 pm Monday-Friday
323 McKenzie St.