Julia’s proves vegan can taste good

Photo by Susan France

While I am admittedly a carnivore, I’ve observed there are two main paths that vegan restaurants can follow. On one hand, there are the eateries that use soy and other non-animal ingredients to create compelling stand-ins for such products as cheese, chicken and sausage. The other route presents ingredients for what they are, letting chickpeas be chickpeas, so to speak. Followers of this path often adhere to simple, unpretentious presentation with a more-than-passing nod to ethnic cuisines.

North Boulder’s Julia’s Kitchen follows the second route, as evidenced by its completely organic and plant-based menu. There’s a house-blended veggie patty, salads, hummus pizza and a selection of raw snacks such as onion crackers and nut-based sweets. Some of the dishes friend Zoe and I shared over a recent lunch were also unquestionably influenced by Eastern cookery.

When we arrived, the noon crowd was starting to build as we ordered at the counter. This humble cafe is a cozy spot, with a welcoming quality reminiscent of natural foods establishments of decades past. It has an unpretentious, lived-in feel that has become increasingly hard to find in town.

As we waited for our hot items to arrive, we munched on $5 kale chips, served up in a brown paper bag. These distinguished themselves from the standard preparation consisting of leafy greens baked and drizzled with olive oil. Julia’s version was produced in a dehydrator, which prevented the veggies from crumbling into dust as baked ones sometimes do. Here, the kale retained crunch and a surprisingly hearty texture augmented by pumpkin and chia seeds, which rounded out the flavor by lending welcome nuttiness.

Next up was the $5 red lentil curry coconut soup, a perky concoction that wouldn’t be out of place in a decent ethnic joint. The curry’s spiciness and coconut cream were perfectly balanced, but this wasn’t this selection’s neatest trick. Often, lentil soups have flavors best described as muddled. But in this instance, judicious seasoning enhanced the soup’s clean and bright qualities, avoiding this pulse-related pitfall.

Zoe, a gluten-free adherent, ordered a $9.50 veggie pancake saute. The accompanying tomato ginger sauce was another fine example of bright and balanced flavors. Additionally, it begged the question: Why aren’t these two ingredients more often in combination? Certainly this sauce’s tang provided an appropriate contrast to the bed of fluffy quinoa. As to the pancakes, these consisted of sprouted beans and vegetables, contributing to a smooth, if not outright mellow, taste. Its colorful appear ance dotted with bits of produce reminded me of the jun, the savory Korean pancake. While Zoe had ordered her dish prepared mild, I wondered if the more spicy version could further evoke the liveliness of Eastern cuisine.

While I found the $9.50 kitchari, billed as “Indian comfort food,” to be less assertive with respect to spicing than the soup, it had inarguably restorative qualities. A light yet still satisfying blend of mung beans and brown basmati rice, this dish was pulled together by a compelling mix of turmeric, lemon and ginger. In particular, the medicinal root and citrus made for something that both stimulated and soothed the palate. This dish summed up all that’s right with Julia’s Kitchen, namely mixing wholesome and nutritious ingredients with balanced yet intriguing flavors.

Julia’s Kitchen is located at 4457 Broadway in Boulder. 720-389-5578.

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