Vegan dining isn’t often fine dining. The ambience tends to involve utilitarian furniture, indestructible place settings, and conspicuous recycling or composting facilities.
But a meal at True Bistro, a new vegan restaurant in Somerville’s Teele Square, certainly feels like a special event. The dining room is simple but gorgeous, rivaling any place serving $20 to $30 entrées in Boston or Cambridge.
The food is healthy, hearty, and delicious. As a onetime vegetarian, I’m confident True Bistro is a place most vegans — those who shun not only meat but also eggs, dairy, and other animal products — will find heavenly. But as an omnivore for the past decade, I also know that most everyone else also will leave happy.
The high-end feel is established quickly, with cloth napkins and tablecloths. Fresh flowers, candles, and handsome place settings adorn the tables. Dinner rolls are accompanied by tangy, high-quality olive oil. Tea or coffee, if ordered, arrives on an attractive small platter.
An array of intriguing salads beckons. The Granny Smith apple salad ($8) with Bibb lettuce, pomegranate seeds, cashew-based cheese, walnuts, and cider vinaigrette, is a wonderful light starter. The tasty cheese, with a hummus-like consistency, gives a hint of the vegan wizardry to come.
Elsewhere among the appetizers, the delicious butternut squash ravioli ($8) with caramelized onions in sherry cream was surprisingly robust for a dairy-free dish. The black bean and plantain torte ($7) was attractively presented, the plantain’s sweetness mingling beautifully with a dollop of salsa verde.
The house-made pappardelle ($15), with smoked tofu, Swiss chard, currants, and pine nuts in a cream sauce, boasts impressive depth of flavor. Skeptical carnivores will be pleasantly surprised. Similarly, the phyllo purse ($15) wrapped around a filling of seitan, quince, and roasted squash was remarkably substantial. Served atop mole, arugula, and pumpkin seeds, this dish would be right at home in one of Boston’s finer restaurants.
The crusted tempeh ($17) on a bed of wine-braised lentils and tomatoes perfectly replicates the cornmeal coating usually found on catfish. Compared with fish, the triangles of tempeh are a bit dry and might benefit from another ladle of the lush lentil-tomato stew.
Finally, the green curry with crispy tofu ($16) was a spot-on rendition of a classic Thai dish. Featuring a crisp cake of black rice with a texture resembling a Rice Krispies treat, this dish was vegan artistry. A soup spoon would have been appreciated, so as to lap up the delectable sauce.
True Bistro’s desserts are impressive, belying their egg-free and dairy-free status. The “death-by-chocolate’’ cake ($7) is topped with a cashew-based crème anglaise; its nutty undertones complement a dense mousse. Topped with small panes of hard caramel, this is a dish best shared by at least two.
The passion fruit tart ($7) with candied citrus zest is equally good, offering a bright tropical flavor that contrasts nicely with a swirl of bittersweet chocolate.
With only a small dining room, True Bistro’s clear weakness is the difficulty in scoring a table. Officially, the eatery only accepts reservations for parties of at least six, although smaller groups can try calling ahead. This hazy reservation policy can cause consternation among couples who’ve been told reservations aren’t available, only to see others waltz in after announcing they’d called ahead.
On a recent Friday evening, True Bistro was jammed by 6:30, with a wait of at least half an hour and the palpable front-end stress spilling over into the adjacent dining room. Competent and attentive as the wait staff are, they can’t compensate for the harried sensation created by a hungry crowd hovering 10 feet away.
Until the reservation system is ironed out, the best options seem to be arriving before 6 on weekends, or after 8 on weeknights.