A recent New Yorker article about life in restaurant kitchens, written by a professional chef, contained the confession that he and those in the food business regard vegetarians "and their Hezbollah-like splinter faction, the vegans," as "enemies of everything that's good and decent in the human spirit. To live life without veal or chicken stock, fish cheeks, sausages, cheese, or organ meats is treasonous." If you've ever ordered a "vegetarian plate" in a restaurant, you can testify to just how prevalent this attitude really is. For the most part here in South Florida, if you stuck to the vegetable dishes, you would indeed miss out on anything even average, much less good. So the arrival one month ago of Suzanne's Vegetarian Bistro, on Biscayne Boulevard and 72nd Street, has been like a breath of fresh fare for Miami's maligned meatless martyrs.
Suzanne's calls itself "a fine dining vegetarian restaurant." This probably refers to the fact that unlike other eateries of this ilk, they actually use linen tablecloths and real plates; or maybe because it's a charming and cozy room (in a charming and cozy little white house that looks quite incongruous, tucked in as it is among the sleazy motels on this stretch of Biscayne). They can't be talking about the food, because fine dining, even with the added "vegetarian," denotes a different level of cuisine than this menu of mostly salads, sandwiches, and smoothies -- no matter how fine these foods may actually be. And some are tasty indeed, like the hearty "lotus bowl" of miso soup with soba noodles, tofu, vegetables, seaweed, shiitake mushrooms, and ginger ($5.50); and the small garden salad ($3.50), so bountiful with field greens, sprouts, tomatoes, red peppers, red onions, shredded carrots, and beets, that I was compelled to reconfirm with the waiter that he didn't mistakenly bring the large portion ($5.50). A creamy sesame miso, one of four dressings, was delicious.
The Reuben ($6.50) here is not as gustatorily satisfying as the one at, say, the Rascal House, but it's hardly the same sandwich. This one, when taken on its own terms, is agreeable indeed: grilled, marinated tempeh, sauerkraut, sautéed onions, and Russian dressing on rye. Other mock-meat sandwiches, which are served with organic blue corn chips and a sour pickle spear, include a Philly cheesesteak with seitan in place of steak, a chargrilled low-fat soy burger, and a triple-decker club anchored by a turkeylike soy cold cut on toasted spelt bread. For real veggies there's the Macro Mama meal ($9.95), which changes daily, and on one particular evening was brown rice, spiced tempeh slices, a fennel and orange salad, and hijiki, a dark brown seaweed with the sea-salty taste that turns many people off. The other hot offering, pasta of the day ($7.50), comprised ziti in a light tomato sauce, with garbanzos, arugula, black olives, and a surprisingly effective pepperoni made from wheat and soy protein.
Desserts at vegetarian restaurants usually are awful, so I tried just one: kanten parfait ($3.50), an apple and raspberry "Jell-O" lacking sweetness as well as gelatin (agar, dried seaweed is the gelling agent). Even with a puff of cashew "cream" on top, this was one odd-tasting, strangely textured, and, yes, awful dessert. Next time I'll finish things off instead with a nice hot cup of organic coffee, or a Soy Delicious brand "ice cream" shake, fruit smoothie, glass of carrot juice, or shot of wheatgrass from the juice bar.
Suzanne's chef Melanie Stewart puts out fresh, wholesome, and nutritional meals that range from fair to very good, which, considering the humble ingredients used, isn't bad. The lunch and dinner menus basically remain the same, but the specials change daily (and include both sandwiches and entrées). Maybe it's not magnificent enough to make you, and professional chefs, swear off meat, or whatever miserable and unhealthy diets you're presently on, forever but at the end (or middle) of the day, Suzanne's is not bad at all.
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