The Tasteful Kitchen’s menu may be meat-free, but it’s not just for vegetarians.
“I want to bring vegetarian cuisine into the mainstream and make it not so exclusive,” said Sigret Thompson, head chef and co-owner of Tasteful Kitchen. “I would like for any average person to say, ‘Let’s go here, we know the food is great. So what that they don’t serve meat.’ It’s usually the reluctant carnivore who’s been dragged in here kicking who wants to meet me and give me a hug at the end.”
Sigret, her sister and co-owner Keanne Thompson, and sous chef Laura Clawson entice eaters of every dietary stripe by serving vegetable dishes that are innovative, flavorful, and fresh.
Starters include the Krabby Patties, Sunflower Street Tacos, and Korean BBQ Cauliflower Bites. Main dishes run the gamut from Red Chile Braised Coconut Sopes to Roasted Root Vegetables, and each entree is accompanied by a small house salad or soup of the day. On a recent night, The Tasteful Kitchen offered a light and creamy asparagus soup accompanied with a homemade sunflower seed cracker, providing a taste of springtime.
“It’s usually the reluctant carnivore who’s been dragged in here kicking who wants to meet me and give me a hug at the end.”
That same night, the restaurant’s comfy, ochre-walled dining room was full of guests. Keanne and Ted, the informative and friendly waiter, tended to each table by taking orders, answering questions, and offering tidbits of information about the food.
“The Krabby Patties get their marine flavor from Nori powder,” Sigret informed one happy pair of diners, who demolished the croquettes with abandon. The patties’ texture comes from crispy jackfruit and hearts of palm topped with horseradish remoulade and a cabbage and kale slaw.
Sigret taught herself to cook by recreating food she ate while living abroad in places like London and Sydney. In early 2011, she opened The Tasteful Kitchen with Keanne Thompson. Although Tucson has long had a vibrant food scene, the Thompsons noticed that there weren’t many vegetarian restaurants. At first, attracting diners was a challenge.
“I honestly thought that it was going to be the best thing ever and everyone was going to be like, ‘Yes! Vegetables!’ and they were going to show up and we’d have lines hanging out the door,” Sigret said. “I thought it was going to go over like gangbusters and it didn’t. But here we are, six years later, and it’s definitely solid and successful. It can be very disheartening when you start something and people don’t know about it and they’re not showing up, so it was a matter of just staying with it.”
The menu includes a wide variety of influences with items such as the Miso Eggplant, which features breaded eggplant medallions over nutty black rice, served with Asian greens and a pleasantly spicy green curry sauce.
However, the menu also excludes certain ingredients to appeal to a wide swathe of diners.
“We noticed dietary awareness growing and the trend in what people were asking for,” Sigret said. “Dairy-free, gluten-free, soy-free, all of these things people have allergies of now. It’s easier to leave that stuff out, and then anyone can eat it.”
Adding to the variety, the Tasteful Kitchen’s menu changes a couple times a year to reflect the seasons.
“Our winter items are more geared towards comfort food,” Sigret said, “As we head towards spring and summer things will start to lighten up.”
The Portabella Wellington is ultimate winter food, featuring a portabella steak topped with duxelles, wrapped in puff pastry, and served with a red wine demi-glace. Still, The Tasteful Kitchen’s signature style makes is apparent via array of perfectly cooked and punch-bright veggies such as roasted sweet potatoes, green beans, broccolini, and cherry tomatoes.
Freshness is highlighted by featuring local produce whenever possible.
“I get as much produce as I can from a grower who deals with me exclusively,” Sigret said. “His farm — it’s more of a gigantic garden — is up in Oracle. I also work with The Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona. [The local produce] is intermingled throughout the entire menu, so people don’t even realize that they’re eating local lettuce or that the parsley that’s on the dish was grown forty-five minutes away from here, or that this little bit of green onion on here is local. It’s the little things.”
Although some items on the regular menu are sourced from farther away, The Tasteful Kitchen served its second-ever prix fixe dinner on January 22 with entirely local ingredients.
“We did a ten-course dinner that was completely farm-to-table, mostly sourced from my guy in Oracle and a little bit of locally harvested citrus from the Community Food Bank,” Sigret said.
Sous chef Clawson, who has worked in the restaurant industry since age fourteen, joined in.
“We went out to Oracle and basically stood in this guy’s garden and were like, ‘alright, we’ll take all of this, all of that, those herbs,’” Clawson said.
The restaurant is open for dinner 5 – 9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, meaning they don’t serve lunch. When customers stumble in during the lunch hour, Sigret suggests that they go over to La Cocina — she likes their food and outdoor atmosphere.
Guests can bring their own beer or wine, although there’s a $7 service fee. The Tasteful Kitchen offers non-alcoholic beverages including herbal hot and iced teas, homemade Shrub Soda, and Muddled Mocktails — the blueberry Mocktail is bright and effervescent, with sippable bits of crushed berry mixed in.
Diners also have the opportunity to learn through cooking classes or have their own portable meals through the weekly meal service. Classes are $40 per person and include instructions, a recipe booklet, and a multi-course lunch. The meal service, which can be ordered online through the restaurant’s web site, is picked up on Wednesdays, and includes four or eight entrees, salads, soups, and desserts.
“It’s a convenient service for people who are too busy to cook or don’t like to cook or want vegan food but don’t know how to do it,” Sigret said.
The Tasteful Kitchen is located at 722 N. Stone Ave. and is open 5 – 9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. For more information, call the restaurant at (520) 250-9600 or visit thetastefulkitchen.com.