It's been awhile since I've visited G-Zen, an organic vegan bistro in the shoreline town of Branford, CT. The last time I was there was to attend the launch of their Saturday "Buddha Brunch" and sample some breakfasty foods, so I was looking forward to returning for dinner with friends.
The occasion was the 40th birthday party of a friend and animal activist who arranged for 20% of the night's proceeds to benefit the Greater New Haven Cat Project where she volunteers. I was happy to support this fantastic organization and celebrate the birthday of a very hard-working woman.
I started with the Fire Island Sake-tini, made with pineapple juice, coconut water, banana, and sake. It was refreshingly tropical for a sultry summer evening. The price ($12.50) was a little steep, but since the juice was fresh and organic, it was understandable.
For our appetizer, the four of us shared the Vegan Artisinal Nut Cheese Platter special which was served with baguette, champagne grapes, and dates on a bed of mesclun. The three cheeses were made from pureed raw cashews in varieties of goat cheese, herbed cheese, and peppercorn brie. All of these were tasty, but the portion would have been more appropriate for two instead of four people to share. At $20, this also was a pricey menu item which would have been even more of a splurge had we ordered two.
One positive note is that I requested gluten-free bread which at first my server had said couldn't be substituted, but then she came to the table with a plate of puffy little flat rolls. I neglected to take a photo, but these were the highlight of my evening: it's rare to get soft, pillowy bread that is not only gluten-free, but also vegan. I asked our server if these were made in house but was informed they came from Dee's One Smart Cookie, a gluten-free bakery in Glastonbury. I highly recommend this bread if you can't eat gluten and are tired of those frozen bricks that taste like cardboard when you toast them. The gluten-free pizza crust at G-Zen also comes from Dee's.
It was tough to decide on an entree since I've eaten nearly everything on the menu on prior visits to G-Zen as well as when they were served at Chef Mark Shadle's previous incarnation, It's Only Natural restaurant in Middletown, CT. One item I hadn't ever tried was the Black Bean Burger, but since I didn't want it on a bun (although, in retrospect, more of that Dee's bread would've been pretty awesome!), I decided to order the Garden Guru, which is any 4 sides for $20. I chose the burger, mashed potatoes and gravy, sauteed greens and grilled asparagus.
When the food arrived at the table, my server notified me that they were out of grilled asparagus and had substituted more greens. Now, I'm a huge fan of greens, but when I order something that's kinda what I expect to get, so I was a little disappointed I hadn't been informed of this asparagus outage in order to pre-empt the substitution. I think she kinda sensed my surprise and offered to bring me a different sub, so I asked for the mixed veggies... which ended up being more greens, plus carrots, broccoli, zucchini and turnips. Everything else on the plate was ok, though I kinda like my mashed potatoes drowning in gravy, which also would have been nice to slather on the somewhat dry burger.
I did not order dessert, but my dining companions enjoyed some Nice Cream and Carrot Cake. Ultimately, the best part of the evening was the good company and conversation which lingered well past closing time. It was a pleasure to be able to enjoy a leisurely meal with friends and not feel pressured out the door.