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Photo: B.A. Nilsson

Hail Seitan

By B.A. Nilsson

 

Luna 61

55 Broadway, Tivoli, 845-758-0061. Serving dinner 5-9 Mon, Tue-Thu, 5-10 Fri-Sat, 4-9 Sun, brunch 9:30-4 Sun. MC, V.

Cuisine: imaginative vegetarian

Entrée price range: $15 (Bangkok curry tofu) to $16 (seitan piccata)

Ambiance: friendly bistro

 

A crowd filled the sidewalk in front of the restaurant, spilled into the street and seemed intent on a vintage yellow VW convertible that puttered nearby. It was an odd sight in this sleepy little town at 4:30 on a Saturday afternoon. As we walked closer, there appeared to be a film crew. The shot was set, following an attractive fair-haired woman who piloted the car from its parking space.

“They’re filming something for German television,” said a woman who stood in front of the restaurant Luna 61. “Doesn’t look like she knows how to drive a stick.” The VW lurched from its spot, stalled, was re-started and lurched again. I looked at the restaurant hours, posted on the door. “We open in about half an hour,” the woman said. “But you’re welcome to sit out here and have a drink.”

A half dozen wooden tables sit in front of the restaurant. Although the buildings on this stretch of the street are close together, the sense, as we sat, was of pleasant intimacy—even with all those film-crew people hanging around, conversing in a mixture of German and English.

We learned that the woman was Luna 61 co-owner Deborah Maisel. Her husband Peter is the chef, and the number in the eatery’s name comes from the address in nearby Red Hook that they occupied for 11 years before settling in Tivoli five years ago. With Bard College a scant couple of miles away, the town is supported by students, faculty and visitors—and a vegetarian restaurant would seem to be a requirement for what’s been termed the most liberal of the liberal arts colleges. (Bard has been portrayed in works by alumni ranging from Mary McCarthy to Steely Dan.)

So my daughter and I sat at one of the outdoor tables, where she sipped a mango iced tea and I enjoyed a Pinkus Jubilate dark lager beer—organic, of course. It was nice to be made welcome even before opening time, and Maisel wasn’t even taking for granted that we’d stay on to dine. Which we should have done inside, because the place is attractive, the walls hung with a photo gallery, a spiral staircase taking you up to a smaller dining area good for parties, the kitchen almost visible over a room partition. But the day was too pleasant to spend indoors. Once the film crew moved down the street, it quieted considerably, although a trickle of dinner-seekers turned into a stream by six.

Tivoli has a restaurant row that includes places like Santa Fe and Madalin’s Table, so it’s a safe bet you’ll find something pleasing or surprising, depending on your ambition. I’m so accustomed to meat-centric menus that it was refreshing to deal with Luna’s approach, which stresses fresh ingredients and homemade everything.

Take the seitan that figures into an appetizer satay ($9). Peter makes it himself, a traditional wheat flour dough recipe that yields what’s often presented as a meat substitute but works just fine under its own aegis. Grilled strips are served with a Sriracha-heated aioli, and, while the flavor is more restrained if you’re expecting meat, it’s satisfying without that reference hanging over it.

Soybean-derived tofu is the other popular not-meatstuff, and it figured into one of the day’s specials, a red curry stir-fry ($17). Oyster mushrooms and rice noodles mixed in nicely, alongside cauliflower, scallions, carrots and greens. Those components have to balance with each other and not be overwhelmed by the sauce, and a very good balance was achieved.

The soup of the day ($5) was gazpacho, livened with nectarines and peaches. Other starters include nachos ($8), tempeh fries ($8), a veggie sushi roll ($10) and scallion pancakes ($8). You might be happy with the salad list—that’s where Lily found her entrée, choosing the Land and Sea ($9), wherein arame (Japanese kelp) is served with daikon, carrots and red cabbage, tossed with baby greens and finished with a sesame balsamic dressing. Again, the flavors blended well and it satisfied my fussy child’s dietary rigors. Look also for a warm tempeh salad, a mix of roasted root vegetables, wild mushrooms, potatoes and kale ($9 each).

The entrées include jerk seitan chimichanga ($16), pad Thai ($15), sloppy Joe (tofu) tacos ($15) and an ever- changing ravioli ($15). Sandwiches include falafel ($8), a tempeh Reuben ($10), a black bean and goat cheese burrito ($10) and a portobello mushroom Cuban press ($10), all served with roasted potatoes.

Sunday brunch offers a choice of omelets ($7), breakfast burrito ($7), huevos rancheros ($7), French toast ($7) and a scrambled eggs-on-a-baguette creation appropriately dubbed Eggs McDeb ($5).

Before we could leave, we were blindsided by the dessert pitch. Turns out most of them are made without refined sugar, which scored big, and they’re all homemade. So we ordered a slice of chocolate mousse cake and a slice of banana cream pie ($6 each), and they were heavenly. And the mousse cake was sinfully chocolaty. But dessert is still dessert and I was hardly halfway through mine when I caught my daughter’s glare, the look that said, “I’ve stopped. Can you?”

I did. My body doesn’t regret it, but my palate sure does. Otherwise, this was one of those summer dining experiences that seem to come only once a season, where all the ingredients fell into place and it couldn’t have felt nicer.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

Schenectady Day Nursery’s 11th annual fundraising event, “A Little Bit of Jazz & More,” will take place from 5:30 to 8 today (Thursday, April 29) in the Fenimore Gallery at Proctors Theatre (432 State St., Schenectady). The “more” part of the proceedings includes a cornucopia of food, including a carving station with turkey breast and roast beef, a pasta station, an hors d’oeuvres display and, if you don’t want to fetch your food, circulating trays with even more hors d’oeuvres, including sesame chicken, a Mediterranean artichoke tart, shrimp Wellington, spanakopita and more. There will be complimentary beer and wine and Chocolates by Lindt. The jazz part is a performance by Colleen Pratt and Friends. The event includes a benefit drawing with a choice of a $500 gift card at either Town TV or Empress Travel, and gift baskets sponsored by the Schenectady Day Nursery Board of Directors. Reservations are $50 per person or $100 for honorary committee status, and may be made by calling Jim Kalohn at 894-6305. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland.



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