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The Gossiping Gourmet: Vegetarian fare that meat-eaters will love

Lagunans love their Zinc Café morning, noon and now, night. Yes, in summer, Zinc trots out the white tablecloths and offers dinner Wednesday through Sunday. Though the menu is exclusively vegetarian, we didn’t miss the “meat" because their food is well-seasoned and full of nice textures and flavors. Plus, they serve wine and beer!

From the small plate menu we chose the spanakopita. You have a choice of one or two. Because it was only our appetizer we shared one but once we tasted it, we were sorry we hadn’t ordered another.

The filo dough was just a few layers thick so it was flaky and crispy all the way through. It was wrapped around superb spinach and feta flavored with dill "” one of the best we’ve had. It came with a cup of Tuscan white bean soup and some spears of braised asparagus on a bit of salad. The fresh tasting soup was a very light, delicate tomato broth accented by a few large white beans and diced potatoes, then finished with a touch of rosemary and spiciness.

They also offer a whole artichoke with basil aioli, served with warmed lemon citrus goat cheese and crostini or a cheese plate with roasted sweet peppers, jalapeño and a French roll with tapenade.

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From the specialties menu, the quiche of the evening was mushroom and, like all of their “plates," comes with several accompaniments.

In a very thin crust, the quiche was chock full of mushrooms with just a little egg mixture rather than the traditional way. But it paled next to the spicy black bean chili that was served with it. This zesty well-seasoned side dish was full of tomato flavor and thick with beans. Finishing the plate was a mixed green salad with chopped tomato and a sprinkling of shredded feta.

Five personal-sized pizzas range from a basic mozzarella with sun-dried tomatoes and goat cheese to an exotic with potato, arugula and white cheddar. The Southwestern appealed to us with its smoky chipotle sauce, black beans, corn, red onion, tomato and smoked Gouda cheese. The delicious topping had so much flavor in every bite, we were sorry that it came on such an uninteresting under-cooked crust!

We had a difficult time choosing an entrée. The potato pancakes with applesauce and sour cream sounded good but none can ever hold a candle to Terry’s grandmother’s. Stuffed peppers, same problem.

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We finally decided on the lasagna when the ladies at the next table said, “You must try the mushroom nut loaf. It’s really good!" Happily we went with their recommendation and they were right.

We were expecting something with a lot of filling grains and a few mushrooms but what arrived was a loaf of earthy mushrooms punctuated with walnuts, cashews and cheese. It was topped with a delicious, spicy fresh tomato sauce. Once again the side dish was a mixed green salad with a zippy light vinaigrette.

The only letdown was their excursion into Thai food in the form of a vegetable salad. This was ill conceived and poorly executed. The center of the plate featured about two cups of plain brown rice, which the menu doesn’t mention. Squeezed into the four corners of the plate were shredded carrots, oldish mung bean sprouts, dry white cabbage and some sliced Persian cucumbers. The rice was topped with two batons of tasteless baked tofu. A Thai-style salad dressing came on the side and the garnish of peanuts, minced basil and mint was in short supply.

We found ourselves wondering about the complete absence of fruit in a vegetarian restaurant in the middle of summer, especially when it comes to dessert. The choice was somewhat limited: brownies, lemon squares, sweet chewy pecan bars, banana pecan cake and flourless chocolate cake.

The flourless chocolate cake was very chocolaty and distinguished by crème Anglaise.

The banana pecan cake was very tasty and not overly sweetened but a bit on the dry side. The cappuccino frosting, butter cream with flecks of coffee bean, was especially good. We both usually scrape off the frosting but in this case, we devoured every bit. We only wished that the cake had not been served so cold.

Zinc definitely makes vegetarian food that non-vegetarians can love.

If You Go

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What: Zinc Café, (949) 494-6302, zinccafe.com

Where: 350 Ocean Ave.

When: 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday and Tuesday; 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday

Prices:

Small plates, soups and pizzettes: $4.95 to $12.95

Sandwiches and salads: $6.95 to $12.95

Entrées: $8.95 to $10.25

Desserts: $2.68 to $7

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Wine:

Bottles: $21 to $70

By the glass: $7 to $14

Corkage Fee: As odd as it may sound, it’s $10.88.


ELLE HARROW and TERRY MARKOWITZ owned a la Carte for 20 years and can be reached at themarkos755@yahoo.com.


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