La Siringitu Vegetarian Café
Good food, no meat; good lord, let's eat
By Jennifer Wohletz
Vegetarian soul food? One of the nicest things about living in Albuquerque is the sheer variety of people, cultures and sweet, sweet grub. I had been hearing about the vegetarian soul food at La Siringitu for some time, so I decided to make a visit on a Sunday afternoon, just in time for their "gospel brunch."
I was greeted by wood plank floors, a beautiful painted-tile fireplace and real plants everywhere I looked. I took a seat by the sunny window and marveled at the alternating table clothes in orange and green, and the tiny African masks that decorated each table.
I was lovin' this place before I even got a menu. It was comfy as all heck (no swearing at the gospel brunch)—the walls are covered with cool artwork, including some oil paintings on irregular canvas pieces by Rujeko Dumbutshena, and the gospel music wafting in was righteously awesome.
The drink menu includes organic unfiltered apple juice, soy milk in plain, vanilla and chocolate, and a list of ingredients for the healthiest of make-it-your-own smoothies to choose from.
The menu is a case study in both vegan and vegetarian alternatives, and is a well-thought-out mix of soul and good-old New Mexican inspired dishes. For appetizers, there is green chile hummus dip, fried sweet plantain with cinnamon and pineapple, a spicy cucumber salad with tomatoes, fresh herbs and lemon, and their house potato broccoli soup garnished with diced tomato and cilantro.
The entrées feature a whole wheat spaghetti dinner ($13.50) served with marinara (with or without "ground meatless"), yams, corn, sautéed Swiss chard, a mixed greens salad and a dinner roll. In the interest of qualifying the pro-meatless argument, I have tried meatless protein strips, patties, meatballs and ground, and although it is a bit drier in consistency, they got it right on both the texture and the taste. While it doesn't taste exactly like meat, it certainly tastes close: I've had it ground in tacos and honestly couldn't tell the difference.
The rest of the entrées are veggie-licious choices such as: eggrolls stuffed with cabbage, potato and carrot served with rice; a fried burrito filled with lentils, corn and cheese and served with chips and salsa; and tofu and wheat gluten stir-fry with vegetables served on a bed of brown rice.
I ordered "a soulful plate" ($13.75), which featured several small portions of classic soul food dishes, minus the animal protein. The black-eyed peas were obviously slow-simmered and were well-seasoned, the macaroni and cheese was perfectly cooked—maybe a bit salty, but liberal with the cheese—and the yams were cooked with sweet chunks of pineapple.
I was very impressed with the barbecued tofu: thick tofu triangles and meatless strips prepared with red onions, red and green bell pepper, and rich with sweet and smoky sauce.
The meal was served with steamed vegetables, a fresh, hot green chile corn cake, and a green salad loaded with shaved carrots, zucchini, cucumber, tomatoes, red pepper and topped with raisins and sunflower seeds.
While I was licking the barbeque sauce off my fingers, I also noticed some specials advertised on a small chalkboard. Interested diners can have a chair massage ($10 for 15 minutes) or a hand treatment that includes sea salt exfoliation, hand massage and a paraffin dip ($15 or $5 each). This is holistic entertainment at its finest, and perhaps a prelude to a nice slice of sweet potato pie, or a piece of Uncle Lee's sweet bean pie for dessert ($3.50).
I finished my meal, still nodding my head to the rhythm of the gospel music. This dining experience made me want to find the god of my choice and praise him or her if for no other reason than to give thanks for such a tasty brunch spot. I think that being a vegetarian could be quite heavenly with such a redeeming restaurant as La Siringitu.
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