Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Nataz "Adventures in Eating"

Now, when you see a banner like that hanging on the front entrance of a restaurant, you either think "yeah, sure" or "ok, let's see." We opted for the latter and gave Nataz in North Branford a shot at adventurous dining.

The concept is simple: price fixe four-course meals and BYOB. The catch is... there's no menu. The dinners are different every night, which makes it an adventure for most diners. And a potential hazard for vegans. Fortunately, we spoke with owner and executive chef, Rik, prior to arriving to be sure he could accommodate my no-eggs, no-dairy, no-gluten request, and he went out of his way to do so. In fact, the service here is the best I've ever enjoyed. Waitstaff is pleasant and attentive, and Rik spends half his time out on the floor greeting and serving guests (unless there's a twin doing double-duty in the kitchen... that could be the secret).

He prepared a special appetizer of Fruit Ceviche, a citrus marinated mix of fresh pear, pineapple and tomato, while my companion got a mini Caprese Salad with an assortment of artisan cheezes arranged on a platter like an artist's pallette.

My salad was mixed greens, fresh pineapple and pear slices tossed with a balsamic vinagrette. It would've been topped by a tangle of breaded and fried onion strips, but alas, these were coated in flour so I had to forgo the crunchy treats (and who needs those pesky trans fats anyway?). A basket of warm and toasty bread and a tray of accoutrements such as herbed olive oil, fresh butter and white bean compote accompanied the salad.
For my entree, Chef Rik prepared a primavera with mushrooms in a marsala wine sauce atop rice. It was a colorful array of snap peas, zucchini, yellow squash, tomato and carrot, and flavorful (though I added a bit of the herbed olive oil and fresh black pepper to perk it up - next time I'll remember my vegan Parm!).

My dessert was almost a reprise of my appetizer, minus the pickled flavor. Still, I can't complain about a champagne glass filled with fresh pineapple, strawberries and mango. The perfect palate cleanser.

All in all, I enjoyed my dining experience, mostly because of the effort made by the chef and his staff. I know it's tough for a "regular" restaurant to please a vegan. This kinda reminded me of going to my mom's house for dinner; it's just nice to be home.

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