Given the large and tasty appetizers, you may not want an entrée, but Red Lentil has them, and all the other bistros should take a look, since they provide many possible solutions to the question of how to center a vegetarian entrée. Seitan with teff crêpes ($14.50) takes the meatiest-textured wheat gluten product and wraps it in a series of earthy teff injeras, which are somehow stiffened to near-taco crunchability. Barely wilted spinach is a green with some body. The only thrill missing was again on the spice level — the alleged fenugreek cream sauce needs more kick. Pistachio and herb-encrusted tofu with corn cake ($14.50) is a vertical pile of tofu (no small trick) with excellent flavor and substantial spinach, but I was looking for a little more crust.
The sweet-potato quesadilla ($9.50), however, is completely successful, and doesn’t even load up the cheese that much. Despite the obvious ringer of sweet potatoes, it has the heft and general flavor of real Cal-Mex food, with fresh cilantro in the salsa. It is as successful as the Mexican pizza is not.
A special on eggplant rollatini ($16) worked well, except for relying on tofu “sausage.” This needed help from perhaps fennel seeds or more garlic in the tomato sauce.
Red Lentil doesn’t serve beer or wine, both of which are vegetables in my house. But it does have smoothies, of which the “tropical blend” ($4.50) is mostly strawberry with a bit of mango, blueberry, and raspberry. There’s also coffee, fine decaf, and a large variety of herbal tea bags ($2.50).
Other than the smoothies, there was only one dessert our night, chocolate cherry cake ($5). Despite no butter or cream, it was an excellent and large piece of cake.
Red Lentil is not a large place, and despite being painted an intense green somewhere between chartreuse and avocado, has rather the feel of a diner or sub shop. The open kitchen and the crowds add some noise, but it is too small a room to really build up sound. Our servers leavened this with intelligent chat about the food even on a very busy Sunday night, and kept bringing food and refilling water at an impressive clip. The crowd has a lot of yarmulkes, and quite a few family groups. Vegetarian food that kids like (and isn’t plain pizza) is quite a trick.
We could point out the fried foods, but even they were non-greasy and wholesome. The stunt seems to be based on getting really good ingredients from the vegetable kingdom, and not wasting a lot of time or money elsewhere. I’d like a little more focus on the cross-cultural dishes (or a larger repertoire of the chef’s native South Asian dishes), but what’s there is already very good.
Robert Nadeau can be reached at email@example.com.
Editor's Note: In a previous version of this article, the product seitan was misidentified as a soy product instead of a wheat gluten product. The correction was made above.