By JIM WILLIS
I have eaten the face off a pig.
Rubbed with herbs and lemon zest, rolled up tightly around the pig’s tongue and cooked sous-vide, it was a delicious combination of porky flavors and textures.
I mention this by way of disclaimer: I am not, probably, the target demographic for a vegan joint like Red Bank’s beloved Good Karma Café.
That said, my side job as guitar player for – shameless plug – Grateful Dead cover band Dead Bank provides many a set-break opportunity to land smack dab in the middle of some food-related chitchat with the Green’s diaphanous, patchouli-scented Sugar Magnolias who all seem to take a certain pleasure in raving on and on about something called the “Love Bowl” that Good Karma serves up.
And so with a New Year’s resolution to eat less bread and no shortage of curiosity about this Love Bowl, your carnivorous PieHole correspondent headed over to Good Karma for lunch.
At about 12:30 p.m., the place radiated with sunshine pouring in over East Front Street through the windows. The Postal Service was playing over the dining area’s speakers. Though two male employees with their lumbersexual aesthetic helped even the gender score, I was the only male customer among the women occupying the handful of tables.
I ordered up the Love Bowl, but not before perusing the extensive two-page glossary included with the menu. (See, for example dulse: a purple sea vegetable with a nut-like taste. Who knew?) The Love Bowl comes with a few options, and with some guidance from a helpful waitress, I settled on the Thai Coconut sauce and tempeh to accompany my dish.
In no time I was faced with a steaming bowl of rice, beans, sauteed greens and tempeh, a tofu relative in that it comes from soybeans but is fermented and has a much firmer texture. Red cabbage, kale, finely-diced scallions and nicely grilled tempeh made for a great presentation.
The steam pouring up from the bowl was scented with nutty but sweet coconut. The flavors were not especially bold, so after a few bites I requested some hot sauce, which I slathered on liberally. This helped to bring everything together a bit more, and I suspect it would have been much better with sriracha as opposed to the Frank’s Hot Sauce. Indeed, I spoke with chef Matt Cincotta after lunch, who confirmed Good Karma usually has sriracha available, so if we go again we’ll make sure to ask for it specifically.
The coconut sauce was a bit subdued at first, but the construction, with the rice and beans at the bottom, meant that about halfway through the dish, the rice and beans had sufficiently absorbed the bulk of the sauce. So as the meal went on, the coconut became more and more pronounced – a nice effect, which helped a bit to keep the tastebuds interested in the meal.
The dish was surprisingly filling and the development of the different flavors and textures as I worked my way to the bottom of the bowl kept my tastebuds from getting bored before I could finish. Also, unlike the typical bread-laden sandwich and chips for lunch, it left me full but not sleepy afterwards.