A few weeks ago I read on Eater that one of my old Watertown favorites, Grappa, had closed and was being replaced by a completely different kind of restaurant. Not only did Grappa have some of the best Italian food (their garlic bread and bruschetta were both to die for), but it was the kind of place where the staff learned your name on your very first visit and then remembered it forever.
Though I was sad to lose Grappa, I was equally excited to hear that the new owner was the same person behind Red Lentil, the vegetarian and vegan restaurant just down the street from my house. If you have never been, it's worth the trip. Make sure to order their cauliflower appetizer called the gobi manchurian. Your life will be changed.
Red Lentil owner Pankaj Pradhan has transformed the old Grappa into Wild Rice Vegan Cafe. He maintained the outdoor patio (complete with trelis) but gave it a fresh look with bright paint - a warm red and a royal purple.
Inside, the restaurant is no frills. There is hardly anything on the walls and no decor at all on the tables. The whole time I kept thinking what a difference it would make if they just added bud vases with a flower or two to each table. Ask Joanna Gaines, it's the little things.
The way it works at Wild Rice is that you come up to the counter at the back of the dining room and you consult the chalkboard menu to place your order. There are no menus on the tables and no waiters or waitresses who take your order.
In my old age, my eye sight is terrible, so I was standing maybe 12 inches from the chalkboard.
First we placed drink orders, hot coffee for my friend and ice tea for me, which we were given right away at the counter. After a few sips my friend said, "Make sure you let people know that this coffee is really delicious." I wish I could say the same for my ice tea, which was so dark it was almost bitter.
With drinks taken care of, it was time to decide on food. The friend I was dining with is married to a vegan and regularly eats this kind of food, so when I suggested we order a few things and share them, she was in total agreement.
The first dish we ordered was the avocado toast. It came with four pieces of whole wheat toast topped with mashed avocado, a healthy sprinkle of za'atar spice and two streaks of harissa sauce on the plate.
We both took our first bites, looked at each other and rolled our eyes in elation. The toast was incredible! The amount of avocado on the toast and the consistency of the mash was perfect. The za'atar added a zesty punch to every bite. The harissa sauce was excellent for dipping and had a great heat to it. I would highly recommend sharing this dish. Two slices per person is plenty and still leaves you with room to try additional dishes.
Our second plate was the guilt free omelette (their wording, not mine). Because Wild Rice is vegan, this omelette is made with chickpea flour instead of eggs. The omelette is stuffed with spiced potatoes and caramelized onions, then topped with a jalapeño-cilantro aioli and sliced avocado.
While the avocado toast didn't taste like a vegan dish (it tasted like a dish anyone could enjoy, even a meat eater) this omelette definitely suffered due to the lack of eggs. The consistency of the chickpea flour just couldn't compete with eggs. Interestingly, the spiced potatoes tasted very sweet, almost like they had been coated in cinnamon or nutmeg. I was definitely expecting savory. The best thing on the plate was actually the toast!
Our third choice was the hash brown waffle. If a potato latke and a scallion pancake had a love child, it would be the hash brown waffle.
I didn't think anything could top the avocado toast, but the hash brown waffle was so outrageously delicious. You would think this would be a heavy dish, but it was surprisingly light and crispy.
When we finished our feast, we cleared our table, returning our dishes to the bins at the counter.
I have to say, I was very surprised by the DIY nature of the dining experience at Wild Rice. I'm not sure if the idea is for it to be more like a Panera where you place your order, get called up and then return your dishes, but it felt so casual to me, especially compared to what used to be in the space and even compared to Red Lentil.
We had two winning dishes and I am excited to go back and keep trying more items.
Wild Rice Vegan Cafe is open seven days a week, serving breakfast from 6:00am - 11:00am and lunch from 11:00am - 3:00pm.