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The black bean pancake, an appetizer similarly lacking in finesse, needed to have been cooked with salt. Black beans are notorious for their powers of absorption; I always salt mine heavily to avoid a telltale taste of paste. Even the addition of salt (though not on the table, salt shakers are willingly supplied, and without surprise) couldn't sell us on this dish. With the touch of tofu sour cream and tomato-cilantro relish, the blini attained, if not perfection, at least some promise.
The most finely tuned appetizer was the meaty portobello mushroom, grilled and sliced like a filet on herbed garlic toast. Mushrooms as large as the portabella have always frightened me, ever since I read The Story of Babar, in which the King of the Elephants turns green and dies after consuming a big, bad mushroom. But I have by now made them my friends, and they delight me with a supple, chewy texture. Oak Feed's version, a bit too oily, was nonetheless generous with juice and an intriguing, hearty touch of the earth.
Deciding whether to dine at Oak Feed depends on how you view "health" food. One of my dining partners delightedly ordered tofu vegetable lasagna, having been deprived by his allergies of the genuine version for some time now. He savored the miso herb vinaigrette that dressed the companion salad, a light, sharp barb of seasonings cratered in the lettuce's verdant valleys. But he was disappointed by the lasagna itself, a failed casserole he had presumed would taste like the lasagna of old, and instead just tasted old. His mistake was unrealistic anticipation; Oak Feed's mistake was too much tofu, not enough marinara.
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The greatest attribute of tofu, a nutritious soybean curd, is its ability to act as a blank canvas for a palette of other flavors. This makes the versatile product a popular, nutritious ingredient. But contrary to the tide of opinion, tofu does have a mild taste of it own. In the case of the lasagna, the tofu was emphasized when it should have been acting merely as texture. With my steamed vegetables in a coconut curry sauce, however, the tofu was marinated and appropriately noteworthy. For me the tofu wasn't a substitute but a rewarding experience all its own. I should note, though, that the coconut curry sauce, being an honest version, isn't exactly a healthy choice; coconut milk contains a high amount of calories.
My wheat-free friend devoured the "lovely" (her word) nori-blackened dolphin. Nori is a sea vegetable, dried and pressed into sheets, commonly used to wrap sushi. This vitamin-rich garment can also be toasted, which makes it dry and crumbly. Using nori to blacken fish is an idea the Cajuns certainly would scorn, but nutritionally speaking, it's an excellent coating for fish.
Over frozen fruitage -- a sugar-free, lactose-free dessert that tastes as if it contains great amounts of both -- the conversation logically turned to philosophies. Cued by the Eastern-influenced cuisine, we discussed the benefits of yoga, meditation, and self-healing. I admit there are certain merits to every belief. But I can't help being a bit skeptical, or as my wheat-free friend suggests, listening to my intellect instead of my body. Whatever. I did attempt yoga once, a spiritual aerobics class that cramped my midsection. Let's hope vegetable aspic doesn't have the same effect.