Wednesday, October 6, 2010

five courses of joy

a fantastic vegan meal at tayst restaurant

Last week, we joined a roomful of Nashville vegans for a sold-out event at Tayst restaurant, which we were fortunate to attend as guests of the chef. We'll take you through a play-by-play of the evening, but before reading any further, you might consider picking up your phone right now and calling in a reservation for next week's encore dinner. The food was phenomenal... bring an omni guest and let the power of inventive, well-executed vegan food blow his mind.

Okay, you've got to be ready for some photos and commentary after that statement. Here we go...

Quinoa and pea cakes with spaghetti squash, pumpkin seeds, tomatoes, and pomegranate
The opening course welcomed us with the flavors of late summer easing into fall (at last!). Delicate field peas were the star, their smooth texture distinctive in each bite of earthy quinoa and starchy squash. The restrained brushes of bright pomegranate glaze and pesto emulsion complemented, but did not overshadow, the warm, subtle character of the cake. 

Smoked pumpkin bisque with polenta fritos and arugula
This was Danielle's favorite dish! The soup was first experienced as a bold, smoky aroma, then filled the palate with deep, complex sweetness, with just enough acidity to prevent it from becoming cloying. Its texture was smooth and velvety, but without the tongue-numbing thickness of a dairy-based bisque. The flavor was perfectly balanced, divulging no ingredients other than the smoked pumpkin that it billed. And our table wanted a bottomless basket of the crisp, golden polenta fritos! 

Almond gnudi, toasted almonds, almond froth with sorrel pesto and pepper sauce
Crystal loved this elegant tribute to the almond. The dumplings were tender and succulent, a perfect bite with a dip of bitter-savory pesto or piquant pepper sauce. And the almond froth was no gimmick: its airy presence delivered a sweet hint of creamy almonds. Our table agreed that this dish deserves a spot on the regular menu.

Marinated, grilled tofu with carrots, eggplant, crispy shallots, roasted cucumber, tobacco potatoes, beets
This preparation of tofu and vegetables plays on the idea that vegans only eat... well, tofu and vegetables. But in this case, the tofu displays deeply caramelized grill marks, its warm interior fairly quivering with custard-like density. The presentation of the vegetables suggested that each should be savored on its own, so that its individual preparation could be studied: a dessert-like beet sauce, cucumber with a hint of seafood (sorry, that is the only way to describe it!), and potatoes with the sweetness of marshmallows. The result was an intriguing dish that makes the diner appreciate the facets of vegetables to which we are usually oblivious.

Warm flan with cashew cheese, apples, chestnuts, and dried cherries
The intensely savory creation described as "cashew cheese" fascinated and perplexed us. It bore no resemblance to the simple, light spreads that we've made, and was surely fermented, or maybe cured like a pâté? Chef Barlow revealed nothing, and seemed pleased to hear the observation that the dish was like a cheese course and dessert on one plate. The flan was not overly sugary, and was a nice foil for the sour-sweet cherries.

Finally, we had a meal in Nashville in which the use of plant-based ingredients was central to its creation, not an inconvenient, limiting factor. We didn't have to choose among different combinations of seitan and tempeh (which are, on occasion, delicious and desirable), or omit the dairy from a dish that was designed to have it. We went out and tasted food that we couldn't devise quickly or recreate at home easily. And the dining room was full of other people who seemed to feel the same way. Did we mention the dinner was sold out?

There is another Veganstravaganza dinner at Tayst on Wednesday, October 13, with another possible event in November. We hope that the success of this concept will inspire other Nashville establishments to offer vegan menu items and events. And we hope that Chef Barlow and the staff at Tayst will further commit to vegan dining by giving Full Menu Status to some of their outstanding vegan creations.

Tayst Restaurant and Wine Bar
2100 21st Ave S, Nashville, TN 37212


  1. Man, and I thought my most recent dining experience was pretty fancy... You even got foam and the whole nine yards there! Amazing, and even more incredible that it actually exists outside of NYC. A very good sign of progress indeed!

  2. Hey Girls! Tayst just posted the next dinner...Nov. 18th and it is a vegan thanksgiving.
    Call quickly! See you there.