Veritably Vegetarian

Cafe Flora enters third decade in Seattle neighborhood

Wine Press NorthwestMarch 6, 2013 

A cheerful children’s book about animals, displayed next to the cash register at Cafe Flora, subtly serves up the concept for the 21-year-old Madison Valley landmark.

The hardback, written and illustrated by Ruby Roth, is titled, That’s Why We Don’t Eat Animals: A Book About Vegans, Vegetarians and All Living Things.

It’s an emotionally charged topic and a choice every person makes each day for individual reasons. There are the stereotypes, too. However, owner Nat Stratton-Clarke’s lifelong devotion to regional and sustainably farmed ingredients, talented longtime chef Janine Doran’s resourceful approach and a select Northwest wine list by manager Carrie Smith prove that a neighborhood vegetarian restaurant can thrive.

“They are really understated about it, and I applaud what they are doing,” said Rick Small, director of operations and founding winemaker at Woodward Canyon Winery in Lowden, Wash. “I love to cook, love to bake, and often eat vegetarian at home, so I like their food a lot. And they are just nice people. They want to get to know their growers and suppliers just like we do, and it’s the type of place where you are honored to have your wine be there.”

Stratton-Clarke, 31, bought Cafe Flora eight years ago after managing it for the original owners. Doran’s ties to the restaurant stretch nearly to its creation.

“Once I heard about this restaurant, I wanted to come here,” Doran said. “It felt like a home away from home because of the great working relationship with the people here, the owners and the shared values.”

However, her transition from kitchens at spots such as the downtown Westin to working the line at Cafe Flora wasn’t as smooth as tahini.

“I felt a little intimidated, quite honestly, but a whole other world opened up as I got familiar with the ingredients,” said Doran, a product of South Seattle Community College’s culinary program. “This made me look at food differently. Vegetarian cooking is not that scary. It’s another opportunity to flex your creativity and use products you wouldn’t use as much in a mainstream kitchen. And vegetarian cooking wasn’t as mainstream as it is now.”

Sunlight Cafe near the University District, circa 1976, ranks among the oldest vegetarian restaurants in the Seattle area. Cafe Flora is the city’s largest, and it serves its community seven days week, roughly from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

“I feel Cafe Flora has really moved forward since I started here, especially with fresh local produce,” said Doran, 49, the executive chef since 2004. “In the beginning, we weren’t getting as much as we are now.”

That’s a passion of Stratton-Clarke, who drives his biodiesel VW station wagon several times a week to farmers markets.

“You’d be amazed how many berry flats I can fit into that thing,” he said.

Stratton-Clarke has worked in restaurants since he was 15, and he emphasizes fresh, local and sustainable. That helps explain why Cafe Flora’s freezer is much smaller than most commercial kitchens. The native of Berkeley, Calif., also draws inspiration from a restaurant that he grew up two blocks from — Chez Panisse.

“What Alice Waters has done for the food movement in this country is monumental,” he said. “It’s mindblowing, bringing the farmers markets back from Europe to here and giving farmers an opportunity to showcase the amazing things they grow.”

The list of Cafe Flora’s in-state purveyors runs longer than 20 sustainable farms, including Island Spring Organics on Vashon Island for tofu. Stratton-Clarke also proudly notes his restaurant was the first customer of Full Circle Farm in Carnation.

“They’re huge now,” he said. “They fly produce to Alaska.”

But Cafe Flora also has helped establish a sense of community in Madison Valley. One of the restaurant’s remarkable features is smack in the middle — a nook where children can sit at a table and color with crayons. It’s a unique diversion but not out of place in the hustle and bustle of the neighborhood.

“There wasn’t much here 20 years ago, and this used to be a laundromat,” Stratton-Clarke said. “There was City People’s Garden Store, which just celebrated 22 years. And Rover’s just celebrated 25 years. It was those two and us in Madison Valley, so it’s amazing to look at it how it’s flourished with all the fantastic restaurants, amazing retail stores and just a great sense of community.”

Last summer, the business association created Bastille Bash, a French-themed street party that drew 2,500 people to Madison Valley.

“There was fantastic food and wines. We had wineries in every single retail store,” Stratton-Clarke said. “We’re expecting close to 5,000 people this year.”

Ironically, Northwest wines haven’t always been a key ingredient at Cafe Flora.

“When we opened, there was no alcohol at all, which I think is incredible,” Stratton-Clarke said. “The guests said, ‘This is Washington state. We have to have wine.’ So the previous owners started bringing in wine.”

The approach goes deeper, though.

“Is it sustainable? Is it organic? Is it Salmon-Safe?” he said. “Those are questions we ask before we bring that wine onto our list.”

Smith, a fan of Washington wine for 20 years, loves staying close to home with her selections, especially after spending time working in a European restaurant.

“And as a wine buyer, (Stratton- Clarke) allows me to work with people with a little bit higher price point because their organic practices show they are committed to the Earth as much as we are,” she said.

The list is brief, but it moves. It’s featured the likes of Airfield Estates, Alexandria Nicole, Badger Mountain, Coyote Canyon, Dunham, Helix by Reininger, Hogue, Kestrel, McCrea, Long Shadows, Naches Heights, Nelms Road by Woodward Canyon, Parejas, Treveri and Whidbey Island.

Oregon representation includes Anne Amie, Argyle, Chehalem and Freja.

Another angle Cafe Flora is mindful of is vegan-friendly winemaking practices. Those include avoiding the standard practice of clarifying or fining by using animal products such as egg whites, gelatin, fish bladder and chitin, so Smith points out Moses Lake-based Kyra Wines and one of Oregon’s iconic wineries — Adelsheim — to vegans.

“Of course, then there’s always the question of the bugs and the spiders that are crushed with the grapes,” Smith said with a smile.

On the menu, Portobello Wellington and Oaxaca Tacos are longtime favorites at Cafe Flora, but Doran and Smith chose to pair the Lentil Pecan Paté platter with the McCrea Cellars 2008 Boushey Vineyard Grande Côte Syrah from the Yakima Valley. The recipe for the paté also appears in the Cafe Flora Cookbook, published in 2005 by Penguin.

By design, the perceived meatiness of the paté — remember, no liver — paired brilliantly with the McCrea Syrah’s white pepper notes. And the La Panzella rosemary cracker, when loaded up with a bit of paté, sweet onion confit, pomegranate and even the pickled pepper, made for harmony with the smoky blueberry and leather tones of the Syrah. The sliced pear served as a palate cleanser.

“That platter has so many components,” Smith said. “The sweet onion confit is great with the big red raspberry juiciness of the wine. And with each component, you can find a little something different in the wine each time to sip it.”

The Woodward Canyon 2011 Chardonnay served as Cafe Flora’s other assignment. Despite its price ($44), Small’s wine is far from many reserve-style Chardonnays undermined by an overuse of French oak. There’s fresh caramel, light butterscotch and pear notes, along with Fuji apple, a touch of creaminess and delicious acidity.

It was paired with Spring Nettle Ravioli, which uses eggless pasta, and served with Cashew Cream Sauce, Petite Radish and Jerusalem Artichoke Salad.

“Northwest wine drinkers aren’t always looking for that huge oak bomb, which is one of the reasons why that wine stands out to me,” Smith said. “It also has a cleaner style to it with citrus notes. Instead of drinking an oaky, viscous Chardonnay that gets muddled up in a cream sauce, this cuts through very well, but there is a nutty, creaminess to it which complements the sauce.”

Fresh nettles may not tempt many, Doran said, but the dish is popular during the spring.

“You don’t always see them at the market, and you have to be careful handling them, but they are very, very good for you, so we want to be able to use as much as we can,” Doran said.

In the summer, Small doesn’t just supply Cafe Flora with Woodward Canyon wine. He also sells tomatoes and peppers from his multi-generational farm in the Walla Walla Valley. A four-hour drive limits him from delivering as much as he would like to Stratton-Clarke.

“Mizuna in Spokane was fullblown vegetarian during their early years, but they had to go away from that,” Small said. “Cafe Flora gives you this sense of place — the way it feels in the small villages of Spain and France. There’s a social capital with a neighborhood restaurant like that, and it feels really good to be a part of that. It’s cool to have the wine there.”

Wine:

Woodward Canyon Winery $44
2011 Chardonnay, Washington
— 773 cases, 13.3% alcohol

When Mother Nature provides a winemaker with a growing season nearly as perfect as 2012, it’s akin to giving a quarterback a fresh set of downs in the red zone.

That wasn’t the case in Washington for 2011, but it allowed founder Rick Small and winemaker Kevin Mott to continue down the stylistic path Woodward Canyon pursues with its Chardonnay — a reserve style with less oak.

“We’ve done this gradually over about a 10-year period,” Small said. “As I’ve gotten older and matured as winemaker, I found the overly oaky Chardonnay more appropriate for California.”

In the 1990s, Woodward Canyon’s “Get Woody” slogan also could have been used to describe its Chardonnay. These days, its no-steel, all-barrel program has been shaved to 20 percent new French oak, a good thing because of the bright acidity and lower pH of the 2011 vintage. This is not a voluptuous Chardonnay.

“When you have a wine with lower pH, it doesn’t show the oak as much as a high pH Chardonnay,” Small said.

Small compared the cool vintage to 1984. On top of that, he suffered crop reduction because his estate Chardonnay vines — a 1977 planting that’s among the state’s oldest — were gut-punched by the 2010 freeze in the Walla Walla Valley.

So dry-farmed Celilo Vineyard, a Columbia Gorge site near White Salmon that’s among Washington’s best for whites, made up 67 percent of the final blend. That more than usual.

Average crop load for the lots, fermented separately, was 2.6 tons per acre. And what’s in the bottle is designed to age for several years — thanks to the orchard-fruit acidity that gently overtakes the subtle creaminess.

“While I liked that wine a lot at the time, and still do, I think it will actually be a little better in a year or so,” Small said.

Woodward Canyon,
11920 W. Highway 12, Lowden, WA, 99360, 509-525-4129,
woodwardcanyon.com

Recipes:

Cafe Flora Spring Nettle Ravioli

Serves 4

1/2 pound nettles (Foraged and Found sells them at the U-district farmers market on Saturday or you can put some gloves on and forage for them yourself!)
1/4 cup walnuts
1/2 yellow onion
1 bunch kale (we like Lacianato but any variety will work)
1 teaspoon olive oil plus 1 tablespoon, separated use
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon of lemon zest
Salt and freshly ground pepper
8 fresh pasta sheets (depending on size)
3 teaspoons egg replacer mixed with 4 tablespoons water
1 recipe of Cashew Cream Sauce
1 recipe of Petite Radish and Jerusalem
Artichoke Salad

1. Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil and blanch nettles for 30 seconds being careful that you don’t touch them!

2. Refresh the nettles in ice cold water bath and then (now that their stinging power is gone) pick off the woody stems.

3. Toast walnuts in the oven at 350 for 5 minutes, watching closely so that they don’t burn.

4. Place walnuts in a food processor and pulse till they are at a fine chop.

5. Dice onion into small pieces.

6. Take the kale off the stem and dice.

7. In a large sauté pan heat 1 teaspoon olive oil, add onions and cook till they start to brown then add the minced garlic until aromatic.

8. Add nettles, kale, lemon zest and cook for approx 10 minutes.

9. Place filling in food processor and pulse 6-8 times.

10. Season to taste with salt and pepper, add walnuts and let cool.

11. On floured surface place a sheet of fresh pasta and cut into 4 equal pieces.

12. Place 1.5 tablespoons of filling in the center of one of the pieces.

13. Use a pastry brush and brush the edges of the ravioli with the egg replacer mixture.

14. Place another piece of pasta on top of the filling and run your finger along the edges to seal ravioli.

15. Repeat steps 9-12 until you have 16 large pieces of ravioli.

16. Bring a large pasta pot full of water, 1 tablespoon olive oil and a 1/4 teaspoon of salt to a boil.

17. Place ravioli in boiling water for 3 minutes.

18. Pull ravioli out and place four pieces on each of the plates.

19. Cover with hot cashew cream sauce.

20. Place 1/3 cup of radish and artichoke mixture in the center of the ravioli, top with 1 tablespoon of the greens. If you want, zest a little nutmeg over the plate. Serve and enjoy!

Cashew Cream Sauce

1 cup cashews
2 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1. Soak cashews overnight in the room temperature water, making sure that the cashews are fully submerged. If you are short on time you can soak them for a minimum of 4 hours. They will swell up and become soft.

2. Place soaked cashews and 1/4 cup of the cashew soaking water and the rest of the ingredients in food processor. Blend on high until smooth and creamy looking. You may need to add a little more of the cashew soaking water until you get a sauce like quality.

3. Place cashew sauce in a saucepan and heat on low until ready for use.

Petite Radish & Jerusalem Artichoke Salad

1 bunch radish (remove the greens)
1/2 pounds Jerusalem Artichoke
1 ounce chives
1/2 cup dried cranberry
Zest and juice of one lemon
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 bunch micro greens we like to use whatever is at the farmers market and looks fresh, some of our favorites are sunflower sprouts, peppercress and micro arugula

1. Thinly slice radish and Jerusalem artichoke on a mandolin or with a sharp knife.

2. Mince chives.

3. In a small bowl mix together all ingredients except for greens.

Wine:

McCrea Cellars $36
2008 Boushey Vineyard Grand Côte Syrah, Yakima Valley
— 173 cases, 14.8% alcohol

Factions within the U.S. wine industry seem all too eager to dismiss Syrah from the store shelf.

Fortunately, there are collaborations in the Pacific Northwest that show this Rhône red variety deserves its place, particularly at the dining table, and this wine represents one of the best. Doug McCrea’s long-term partnership with renowned grower Dick Boushey creates this vineyard- designate Syrah that’s humming along without a sign of slowing down.

A prime reason for that was the season. Indeed, 2008 goes down as “one of the most difficult vintages in 20 years,” McCrea noted.

Boushey’s famed site in the Yakima Valley, one of Eastern Washington’s relatively cooler American Viticultural Areas, excels with Syrah. The grapes at his Grandview vineyard retain more acidity, and his watchful eye prevents the berries in his oldest block from going beyond ripeness. This block was planted in 1994, which coincidently marks McCrea’s first vintage of Syrah.

On Oct. 16, McCrea took the crop load of 2.5 tons per acre at 24.6 brix, and the resulting wine steers clear of syrupy blackberry or screaming alcohol in many Syrah. His barrel program — 20 months with 22% new French oak — is another ingredient of food-friendly winemaking.

McCrea, the Pacific Northwest’s original Rhône Ranger, taps into 10 Rhône varieties and creates three top-tier Syrahs within the annual production of 3,000 cases at his winery between Olympia and Mount Rainier. However, he chose not to co-ferment with Viognier or blend in another variety. That allows for expressions of smoky blueberry, Marionberry, green olive and leather aromas that are matched on the palate and joined by anise.

This year, the jazz man from New Orleans celebrates the 25th anniversary of McCrea Cellars. And the late David Lake, the Master of Wine credited with blazing the Syrah trail in Washington in 1988, would be proud.

McCrea Cellars, (by appointment only)
11515 Eagleview Lane, Rainier, WA 98576,
360-446-8466, mccreacellars.com.

Recipe:

Cafe Flora Lentil Pecan Pâté

Makes 2 cups

1 cup red lentils
2 cups water
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 tablespoon garlic, chopped
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried sage
2 tablespoons mirin rice wine
1 teaspoon umeboshi (sour plum) paste
1 tablespoon light miso
1/2 cup pecan pieces, toasted
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1. Rinse the lentils. Put them in a pot with the water and bay leaf. Bring to a boil over medium heat, lower the head and simmer, covered, until the lentils are very soft and most the water has been absorbed, 15 to 20 minutes, adding more water if necessary. Remove the bay leaf, and set aside to cool.

2. While the lentils are cooking, heat the olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Add the onion, and cook until it has reduced in volume and begun to soften, about 5 minutes, stirring once or twice.

3. Turn down the heat to low, and cook the onion for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. If the onion starts to stick, add 1 or 2 tablespoons water or cooking sherry, and stir to remove any bits of onion from the bottom of the pan. When done, the onion should be various shades of brown, soft and sweet.

4. To the onion, add the garlic, thyme and sage, and cook for 1 minute. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.

5. Put the lentils and onion mixture in a food processor. Add all the remaining ingredients and process until the mixture is a smooth paste. Transfer to a bowl, cover and chill before serving.

6. Serve with mixed olives, cornichons, seasonal fresh fruit, crackers or crostini.

ERIC DEGERMAN is co-owner of Great Northwest Wine, a news and information website. For more information, go to www.greatnorthwestwine.com.

CHARITY LYNNE is a photographer based out of Seattle, Wash. You can find her online at charitylynne.com.

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