Pulse Café

What's wrong with this flavor?
By ROBERT NADEAU  |  July 28, 2010
1.0 1.0 Stars

1008_pulse-main
BUFFALO BITES: Not actually, but these chunks of fried tofu, served with a just-right hot sauce, are one of the few reasons this isn’t a no-star review.

Pulse Café | 195 Elm Street, Somerville | 617.825.1730 | Thepulsecafe.com | Open Tuesday–Saturday, 5–10 PM; Sunday, 5–9 pm | DI, MC, VI | No liquor | No valet parking | Sidewalk level access with threshold bump
I understand the "vegan" thing two ways. Either you are a capital-V Vegan from another star system, or you eat vegetables and no animal-origin products like diary or eggs. So a Vegan restaurant would serve, maybe, silicon-based foods, and a vegan restaurant would serve — stop me if I've overlooked something here — really good vegetables, or dishes from the large group of world cuisines invented by lactose-intolerant people who can't afford or who religiously oppose meat. If a (small-v) vegan restaurant doesn't do one or both of those things, vegans and their friends would do a lot better ordering the vegetable dishes at any fine restaurant, or eating selectively at a South Asian, Middle Eastern, or East Asian Buddhist place. Or at Red Lentil.

The buzz on the Pulse Café was "vegan comfort food" and "seasonal menu," and that the chef was a real chef. So here we are at the end of July, the farmer's market has the first real tomatoes, corn, and basil, and the Pulse Café has me scraping the overly sour chimichurri sauce off my grilled seitan. What's wrong with this flavor?

Here's what I liked at Pulse: the " 'Buffalo' Tofu Bites" ($7), fried cubes with just the right mild hot sauce, a fake blue-cheese dip that isn't pungent but does cut the heat, and nice celery. Also, the red beans on the nachos ($7/small; $11/large; $2/add guacamole), the white beans on the Polenta Caponata ($12), and the black beans on stacked enchiladas ($13). It is important for a restaurant called Pulse to cook beans thoroughly, contrary to Boston practice of serving beans al dente, what Louise Nadeau has come to call "gringo beans." I liked the polenta on the polenta caponata, not to mention the corn chips on the nachos, and the grilled seitan ($13) itself, once I scraped off the sauce. I liked the strawberry brownie ($5) for dessert, because it had enough chocolate in it.

I was not offended by the chocolate mousse made with silken tofu ($5) or the version with mint as well as chocolate ($5). When I am making chocolate pudding for lactose-intolerant kosher vegetarians, I use a corn-starch base, expensive chocolate, and a mixture of soy and coconut milk. But silken tofu is okay with chocolate in it.

And I mostly enjoyed Maine Roots brand ginger beer ($2.50) in its sea-green bottle.

That's the good news. That's the one star. (We do have a no-star rating here at the Phoenix.)

Now, on the other hand . . .

The green salad ($7) had a tasteless tomato and tasteless lettuce. You know a salad is a travesty when you find yourself picking the cucumbers and the onions out of it. The "creamy dill" dressing was not a big negative, although the last time I checked the recipe, with some fresh garlic and herbs, you could still make a classic vinaigrette in vegan.

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