Saturday, August 14, 2010

Restaurant Review: Karma (Northampton, MA)

This evening, My Beloved and I managed to follow through with our plan to check out Karma, the new vegan restaurant which opened in Northampton last week. When we learned that its specialty was raw food, I have to confess that I was a little disappointed as I feel - rightly or wrongly - that the raw niche is such a small segment of the vegan community. And if we are to have one dedicated vegan restaurant, I would have preferred it to be one which serves both raw and cooked options.

However, I will admit that I was very, very pleasantly surprised. Karma is a cross between a restaurant and a cafe - casual yet elegant, friendly yet impressive. The decor is quite formal with blown glass pendant lighting and button vases of fresh flowers on each table. My Beloved and I arrived early in the evening - around 7pm - and there were only a couple of other tables occupied. Oh dear, we thought....

Our trepidation vanished very rapidly though when we saw the menu. It is surprisingly extensive, with appetizers, soups, entrees, sandwiches and noodles, albeit the sandwiches are available only for the lunch menu. To begin, we selected the Veggie Nori Wrap and the Nut Cheese and Cracker Platter both of which turned out to be superb. The home-made dehydrated crackers were a touch spicy and peppery, and the soft heapings of nut cheese were tangy and fresh - a real winner! Likewise the nori wraps were beautiful in presentation and very tasty too.

For our entrees, I chose the butternut squash fettucini noodles with cashew cream sauce, which looked delightful on the plate - ribbons of curled shavings of golden-orange squash, enrobed in a pale silken cream sauce. My one criticism of the dish might be that the fettuccini noodles were perhaps just that fraction too thick which made eating them harder work than their non-raw, conventional equivalent would be. But that is a very minor point, I'm sure, and one born of my unfamiliarity with the raw scene. The cashew cream sauce, on the other hand, was very good and plentiful and the wide noodles proved an excellent vehicle for sauce delivery! My Beloved opted wisely for the zucchini and summer squash 'angel hair noodles' with a pesto sauce, which was the clear winner. Although we both found the pesto is a little thin in consistency and hence not as bold a flavor as it could have been, this was easily remedied with a sprinkling of salt, making for a really delicious dish!

And so to dessert: we had a hard time choosing between the raspberry coconut cheesecake, dark chocolate cherry brownie a la mode and pineapple carrot cake. Personally I wanted to try them all, but was persuaded that we really ought to save something for the next visit so plumped for the first two, as the brownie came with vanilla bean ice-cream. Thus we got to try three items anyways!!!!! And they were the highlight of the meal  - absolutely excellent! Both plates had beautiful presentation with very enjoyable attention to detail. Each bite of the cheesecake was smooth and creamy, and the swirl of sweet raspberry in the main body of the cheesecake accented the mild coconut flavour. The sweet almond crust was wafer thin yet held together nicely. Our second selection, the cherry brownie, had a gorgeous chewy texture and was studded with cherry pieces. Not too sweet, it sported a crown of coconut milk-based ice cream with a creamy, luscious consistency.

Although we did not leave room for an after dinner tea, Karma does offer a lengthy list of artisanal brews in all shades - black, green, white, red. They also have a line in herbal blends from Camomile to Fairytale to Chai to 'Persephone's Tea' - dandelion root, burdock root, Oregon grape root, yellow dock root, eleuthero root and milk thistle seed.

The service was excellent too - casual but very friendly and comfortable and our server was very quick to point out clearly that this was a raw vegan restaurant, so no-one could claim ignorance. Which we really appreciated because we like to know what we're getting into. The prices were very reasonable, with entrees ranging from $8 to $15, but skewed to the lower end. The whole meal, with a fruit smoothie each, came to less than $60, which coincidentally was the price per head for the tasting menu of the only other raw food restaurant we've ever been to. And that evening, we went home hungry...

This evening, in contrast, we have some nice leftovers in a recycled paper-based container - so much better than plastic! - and full bellies of fresh, organic, local, nourishing and delicious food. And you can't ask for much more than that.

Good start, Karma, let's keep it going!
Oh, and next time, could you add me to the list of invitees when you have a social event??? Just asking...

Eat well and stay vegan, friends!


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