Grilled tofu, anyone?
by Bill Rodriguez
727 East Avenue, Pawtucket, 726-2826
Open Mon-Sat, 10 a.m.-9:30 p.m.
Sun, 12-8 p.m. (Juice bar opens at 11 a.m. on Sun)
Major credit cards
Back in the days of Berkeley vegetarianism -- what I like to call the
whole-wheat-gravy-on-underdone-brown-rice days -- a few of us discovered the
true joys of meatless meals based on ethnic recipes, especially from Far
Eastern and south of the border cuisines. By the early '80s, "natural foods"
had become big business (or at least medium-big), and prepared foods like
Annie's boxes of macaroni and cheese and Light Life's tempeh burgers were
staples in a kitchen that had heretofore declared itself a from-scratch zone.
At about the same time, Rob Jaffe was running a natural foods store, the
Golden Sheaf, on Wickenden Street (after that spot's incarnation as the
Providence Zen Center, and before its current status as Tokyo). Jaffe was also
discovering the fast foods that could be offered to vegetarians, and in 1996,
he opened the Garden Grille, with Garden, Boca and tempeh burgers in several
incarnations: on buns with the works, or with a side of wood-grilled fries,
either white or sweet potato.
Almost four years later, Garden Grille has a steady following among local
vegans, vegetarians and adherents to special diets. On a recent week night,
four of us had to wait for a table to open, and when we ordered two hours
before closing, they were out of a special for the night, the Southwest
quesadillas, and the rice noodles for a regular menu item, the pad Thai.
Undeterred, we chose other selections. I was gravitating to the honey
maple-smoked and marinated tofu ($10.95) all along, and Bill had been drawn to
the grilled portobello wrap ($6.95). Our friends, one a terrific macrobiotic
cook and cooking teacher, and the other a soulful musician, ordered their
usuals: a pizza bella with soy mozzarella ($7.95) and a peace wrap ($5.95). She
also got a cup of vegetarian chili ($2.95), Bill had miso soup ($2.50) and we
all shared wood-grilled sweet potato fries ($3.95), some regular fries ($2.95)
and a special, the Asian dumplings with Hunan dipping sauce ($5.95).
The latter, which come from a local Asian market, were my favorite, with bits
of chive and mushroom in the dumplings and a kick to the sauce. I also found
myself returning again and again to the thick-cut sweet potato fries, crispy on
the outside and tender on the inside.
My tofu entree, however, disappointed me. Although the smokey taste whispered
around the tofu and the top of each triangle had a mapley glaze, the inside was
somewhat tough and unmarinated. I'm that rare phenomenon -- a tofu fan -- and
I'll eat it almost any way, anyhow. But this dish just did not live up to its
menu description. In addition, a side of short-grained brown rice was woefully
Bill, on the other hand, loved the melding flavors of arugula, roasted red
peppers and grilled portobello, bound together with brown rice in a
spinach-flour tortilla. The wood-grilled fries he ordered with it, though,
seemed to have been brushed with too much oil for our taste.
The pizza bella was thin-crust, heaped with veggies, including artichoke
hearts, and it was yummy. The vegetarian chili was nicely spiced, with corn as
well as beans, though no pintos. And the peace wrap was stuffed to overflowing
with hummus, tabouli, greens, carrots and tomatoes.
We glanced at the packaged natural cookies, especially the chocolate cherry
one, but we were way too full. For a future visit, our musician friend
recommended a smoothie for dessert, especially the "Barbuda blast," a blend of
raspberry, apple, banana, bee pollen and spirulina.
Our waiter, Mark, was patient and helpful. Attentive to my yearning for mango,
he brought a complimentary side dish of the golden slices, and attentive to our
wait at the juice bar for a table, he made sure to tell the other staff that we
were next in line.
The juice bar itself didn't measure up. We had not read the menu carefully
enough to notice that not all of the juices are fresh-squeezed, and we ordered
a pear-ginger combo that, disappointingly, was from a jar. Though we were told
that fresh lemon juice would be added, I noticed the juice-maid only spritzing
something into the glasses from a smaller bottle. Since we always get
fresh-squeezed pear juice at a South County natural foods restaurant, I spoke
with the manager and was told that it's too much work to remove seeds from
pears to juice them.
Which brings me full circle to the use of prepared meat substitutes at Garden
Grille. It's great to know that, as a vegetarian, you can go out and indulge in
a meatless burger, but it would be even more fun if the kitchen came up with
their own recipes for veggie burgers or Asian dumplings. And it would make me,
as a diner, feel more special if more care was taken with such items as the
rice and fresh juices.