Written in script on the menu of Sense Eat, an Italian vegetarian restaurant near Odéon, is a quote from Albert Einstein: “It is my view that the vegetarian manner of living, by its purely physical effect on the human temperament, would most beneficially influence the lot of mankind.” I understood that I was not just about to have a meal but possibly improve the entire human condition (Hmmm, is there any way that eating vegetarian could undo the results of the last American election?).
The restaurant’s priorities are made even clearer by the decor: big letters made of bark spelling out “Earth.”
So, we know it’s about ecology and a better world through a righteous, meat-free diet, but did it taste good? Sort of.
For my first course, I tried the eliantys (we were told this was a root vegetable, but I couldn’t find anything about it on the Web),
which was similar to an artichoke heart in both taste and texture. It sat on a bed of oatmealish creamed taralli (a cracker-like Italian snack) with fennel and onions. A few pieces of avocado were thrown on top for good measure, but I thought they were out of place on this kind of wintry comfort food, although the pickled red cabbage and sesame seeds added a nice counterpoint.
The other starter was a salad of napa cabbage and treviso with yuzu, marinated fennel,
almonds and squash seeds. Very wholesome.
The main-course pasta of the day, barley orecchiette with artichokes, olives and capers, was on the bland side, although the sauce,
when tasted on its own, was quite rich and complex. The risotto with lime, topped with
“roasted ricotta,” sounded interesting and was a pretty pink color thanks to another ingredient, beets, but I found it dull. I thought the best main course was the polenta with
melted caciocavallo (a stretched curd cheese), although it was a little stodgy.
One of my friends loved her dessert so much
that she hardly let us taste it. It was a sophisticated version of a Ferraro Rocher hazelnut and chocolate candy, made with Tonka beans and chestnuts, and served with Jerusalem-artichoke ice cream, which I found just about acceptable in spite of my distaste for using vegetables in desserts. My pannacotta,
which didn’t have that slippery texture I love, was disappointing, even though it had a nice fruit topping, and the tiramisu with chestnuts
was fine but not exciting.
The service from an all-Italian staff was friendly but erratic, certainly not as efficient as it should have been at lunchtime.
Overall, I felt that a great attempt was being made to create inventive recipes made with fine ingredients, but the results were just not interesting and flavorful enough. And it’s not because it’s vegetarian; I’ve had great meat-free dishes elsewhere. The restaurant is on the right track, but perhaps needs to take it a bit farther down the line.
The best that I can hope for is that I am now a better person who will beneficially influence the lot of mankind.
Sense Eat, by the way, is not the first “vegitalian” restaurant in Paris: a decade ago fashion designer Carmen Ragosta opened a mini-restaurant serving her vegan inventions right in her clothing store.