A vegan restaurant that appeals to all
264 Washington St., Malden
All major credit cards accepted
Entrance handicapped-accessible; bathrooms not
Hours: Thursday to Sunday, 5:30 to 8:30 p.m.; Sunday brunch, 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Of the three of us, there were two carnivores and a cheating vegetarian (she eats fish).
That's why we were somewhat uneasy about the thought of spending our Friday night at a vegan restaurant that serves root vegetables posing as meat and a number of entrees that just happen to be gluten-free.
The décor at Vej Naturals, which opened last summer, made us no less anxious.
The place looks like a tiny cottage, not a restaurant. There were shelves of vitamins and health supplements on sale near the dinner tables. The music playing was the kind of nondescript Asian flute song that you might hear while getting a massage at a new-age spa.
Sure, it was quaint and pretty. But could this hippie, feel-good restaurant really fill us up for the night? Was everything going to taste like cardboard and squash?
The answer is yes and no. Yes, we got pleasantly full, and no, the vegan food did not taste like cardboard.
It was good, and in some cases, excellent fare. Vej is worth visiting, even if you like bacon and cheese on your burgers.
We started with two appetizers, the Lebanese meze and the grilled polenta (both $7).
The first dish was a basic hummus plate with veggies and rice-stuffed dolmas (also known as stuffed grape leaves). It's a good dish for dining companions who want to eat something they can recognize.
We preferred the grilled polenta, which was served as a plate of bites topped with delicious bits of eggplant, caponata, and pine nuts. It was a mess of flavors that worked well together, even if we couldn't identify all of the vegetable ingredients.
If you've brought one of those aforementioned conservative eaters who fears fake meat and exotic vegetables, they'll be happy with the spaghetti alfreda entrée ($12).
It's basically a big pile of whole-wheat spaghetti with roasted garlic, broccoli, mushrooms, and onions. Of course, the cream sauce isn't really cream, but you'd never know it.
Tofu lovers will enjoy the moqueca ($12), a plate of tofu marinated in coconut milk, served with peppers and onions. As a side, you get delicious sweet potatoes.
Our only suggestion for chef Bob Bouley, who used to work at the Evergreen Café in Vermont, would be to add more marinade to that tofu. We liked the coconut flavor (which reminded us of a soft curry) enough to taste more of it in the dish.
Our favorite entrée of the night was the Vej loaf ($12), which is made of beans and grains. The nonmeat dish was actually quite meaty, if that makes sense. It was tasty and stick-to-your-ribs filling, like real meatloaf.
The loaf - which is made of beans and grain - comes with traditional mashed potatoes, and like the sweet potatoes served with the tofu plate, it was a chunky pile of comfort carbs -- better than your average mashed.
For dessert we shared a lemon cake ($4) with blueberry compote and "whipped cream."
Out of habit, my mildly vegetarian companion avoided the sweet cream on top of the pie (she's also lactose-intolerant) until she realized vegan cream isn't really cream (it's made from soy milk). She lit up, realizing she could dig in.
Worth noting: Vej's fruit shakes also make a good, light dessert.