Since 1993, Janine Doran has been in and around the kitchen at Madison Valley’s charming neighborhood gem Cafe Flora, working in a variety of positions before taking over as Executive Chef in 2004. Doran has traveled the world over in search of new and interesting flavor profiles to bring back and integrate in PNW cuisine, and found her calling by combining international traditions into fresh local seasonal dishes. Cafe Flora is food porn for the gluten-free/veganites, but more importantly, Janine has somehow developed a vegetarian menu that even strictly carnivorous diners will enjoy. I often find myself ordering vegetarian items, hoping I’ll feel healthier and better about dining out, only to be vastly disappointed when it arrives at my table, wishing I’d just gone with my gut, and ordered the flank steak and buttery twice-baked potatoes. But Doran and general-manager-turned owner Nat Stratton have created a vegetarian-based menu, perfect for moms out on a Saturday morning walk, evenings out with the girlfriends, or intimate date night.
We were seated in the zen-like garden atrium area, which has an abundance of natural light and a beautiful stone waterfall fixture, creating a calming atmosphere, and drowning out the whining children seated a few feet behind you. Moms take note, there is also a play area for your kids sectioned off inside the restaurant, and this is the kind of place where children roam freely – it’s a great little escape haven for you and your minions.
We started our meal with a trio of appetizers – the fluffy puttanesca gnocchi swimming in a light tomato basil garlic sauce were great for sharing, and the crispy bucket of piping hot yam fries with cayenne aioli was a killer treat. I’m a sucker for sweet potato fries, and I honestly couldn’t really taste the difference here, but it felt a little more authentic ordering yammies.
You MUST order the pate platter, one of the most unique veggie dishes I’ve tasted in a while. Who knew there existed a meatless pate that was actually enjoyable! Spoiler: I love a nice rich pate, and I didn’t miss the meat, substituted by a lentil-pecan fusion, accompanied by red onion confit, and an array of pickled veggies. If you’re into pickles (if you’re not I don’t trust you), there is also a pickle jar on the menu that looks divine.
The superfood salad is a great choice if you’re looking for a dish to feel good about eating post-workout, with plenty of kale, brussel sprout crowns, apricots and chia seeds tossed in a light creamy cider dressing. I would order this to feel good about devouring that entire bucket of yam fries.
The roasted pineapple pizza with smoky red onions and thai basil was delightful, and the gluten-free crust was likely the best I’ve ever had; it was fluffy and airy, not the usual flat chewy crap you’ve come accustomed to, if you’re gluten intolerant. This is probably as close to the real thing as you’re gonna get, and the sweet and spicy flavor profile of the pineapple paired with the jalapeno was fabulous.
If you read reviews, you’ve likely already heard the hype over the Oaxaca tacos, and these babies deserve the cult-like following they’ve acquired. You’d be hard pressed to find a more authentic southern style, veg taco in Seattle – these corn tortillas filled with cheesy mashed potatoes accompanied by collard greens (WHAT!? Yes!), black beans, and roasted tomato salsa were crazy good, and I don’t understand why we don’t see more potato tacos in the NW! If you own a taco joint in the area, please start serving these, they’re a home run!
We didn’t exactly save room for dessert, but I would if you’re a vegan or gluten-free diner, as their dessert menu has a number of decadent dishes sure to satisfy your sweet tooth.
The hazelnut brownie sundae, featuring creamy hazelnut vegan ice cream, drizzled with hot fudge sauce and candied hazelnuts was very tasty, although I’ll admit I missed the dairy in the gluten-free/vegan brownie – wasn’t as rich as I’d hoped, but a little dollop of peanut butter, or better yet, TJ’s cookie butter would have totally been a game changer in this dessert, in my opinion. YUM!