By Frank Sabatini Jr.
There is much to absorb at Kindred, a bustling plant-based restaurant and cocktail bar that pays exceptional detail to food, mixology and design.
Whatever your dietary preference, if you haven’t dropped in for at least a shrewdly crafted intoxicant to wash down a bowl of popcorn seasoned brilliantly with dill, chives and garlic-chili “cologne,” you’re about three years late — just as I was.
The words “vegan” and “mock meat” are deliberately omitted from the menu in an effort to bust the notion that vegan food is inferior or different than non-vegan food.
“We’ve tailored the menu with heavy proteins and rich flavors,” said co-owner Kory Stetina, who produced pop-up vegan beer dinners before opening Kindred with the help of acclaimed local designer Paul Basile.
Located on the corner lot where Alchemy stood, the motif greets with a gorgeously contrasted blend of French Victorian and devious Gothic appointments. Large windows that open to the street were also installed. And with a tatted, pierced and efficient staff in place, the vibe nods peacefully to the heavy-metal music culture as well.
Most impressive is an artistically menacing replica of a wolf’s head jutting from a wall lined with booths. Its eyes point to a central cluster of chandelier liquor shelves suspended over the marble top bar.
Behind the bar is a more feminine touch — pink and white wallpaper that appears at first glance like it belongs in the bedroom of a Victorian house. A closer look at its custom-print insignia reveals sword-fighting eyeballs and six-armed girls. Somehow everyone feels right at home here.
My vegetarian dining companion chose the first meal course, a board named the “deli battle.” A riot of novel flavors ensued from curly slices of seitan spiced with oranges and red chili; a miso cashew “cheese” ball embedded with cubed figs for sweetness; thin disks of golden beets kissed with a touch of smokiness; and crostini brushed with olive oil.
The condiments were equally enthralling: kale-pepperoncini pesto and lemon-tomato relish. Nothing on the board lost our interest as we ferociously obliterated a large bowl of the herby popcorn, which we spritzed with an accompanying wedge of lemon.
We proceeded to char-grilled seitan skewers dressed with harissa, horseradish aioli and chimichurri. My companion loved the hectic combination of sauces. I would have preferred two less for enjoying the meaty, grilled flavor of the seitan.
The “emerald” salad is a new item featuring soft lettuces encircled by edamame, farro, fried chickpeas, Sriracha almonds and apricots. It’s garnished with a piece of outstanding sesame-peanut brittle the kitchen should box and sell. With non-dairy arugula tzatziki dressing the fibrous salad, the medley exploded blissfully with creaminess.
Un-ripened jackfruit, which closely mimics pulled pork, appears between toasted sourdough with Memphis-style barbecue sauce, green chili aioli, Dijon mustard, onions and house pickles. The combined flavors were aggressive, but surprisingly harmonious.
From a list of five entrees, we were tempted at first by the beer-battered palm tacos served with seaweed salad and grilled corn. But my friend hankered for a bigger dose of protein, so we agreed to share the smoked tofu lardons.
The small pieces of faux pork fat were strewn throughout creamy potato salad tossed likely in cashew milk. Complemented by shaved asparagus, grilled yellow squash and Cajun-seasoned parsnip strips, it’s a dish that non-vegans in rural America would easily embrace on a summer picnic.
We tried a few concoctions from the well-stocked bar, including the “deadweight” layered with rum, herbal liqueur (Strega), lime and coconut milk.
It was as tasty and pretty as the non-alcoholic “black magic punch,” which invigorates the palate with blackcurrant kombucha, orange juice, ginger, grenadine and crushed blackberries.
Stetina and head chef Jeremy Scullin, who came from Vedge restaurant in Philadelphia, are currently testing traditional cheese-making techniques for producing vegan cheeses made from nut milks.
Steina says he hopes to roll out the results in a few months.
—Frank Sabatini Jr. is the author of “Secret San Diego” (ECW Press), and began his local writing career more than two decades ago as a staffer for the former San Diego Tribune. Reach him at email@example.com.