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Originally published Friday, June 12, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Restaurant review

Sutra is vegetarianism, well-done

Restaurant review: Sutra, a tiny vegetarian/vegan restaurant in Seattle's Wallingford neighborhood, uses a cache of largely local, organic ingredients; if your vision of vegan involves soy protein masquerading as meat, an epiphany awaits you in this unpretentious nook. Three-star review by Providence Cicero.

Special to The Seattle Times

Editor's note: No sample menu is included in this review since at Sutra it's not applicable.

Sutra3 stars

Vegetarian

1605 N. 45th St., Wallingford

206-547-1348

www.sutraseattle.com

Reservations: Recommended.

Hours: One seating Wednesdays and Thursdays at 6:30 p.m.; two seatings Fridays and Saturdays, 6:30 and 9 p.m.

Prices: $$$ (Four-course prix fixe menu for $33.)

Drinks: Local, organic, biodynamic wine and beer; nonalcoholic beverages.

Parking: On street.

Sound: Moderate.

Who should go: A must for vegans, vegetarians and open-minded omnivores.

Credit cards: Visa, MasterCard, Amex.

Access: No obstacles to entry, but restrooms not accessible.

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SUUUUTRAAAA!

So read the subject line of an e-mail from a vegan colleague of mine, raving about the sesame-crusted sunchoke cutlets at her new favorite restaurant, Sutra.

Alas, those cutlets weren't on the menu when we headed to Wallingford the following week. Chef Colin Patterson hates to repeat himself. His wife and business partner, Amber Tande, estimates that since Sutra opened last summer he has created more than 300 different dishes for the four-course prix fixe menus that change weekly.

Meals begin with Patterson striking a domed brass gong, a work of art fashioned from a reclaimed diving tank. He thanks the universe for all the unseen hands that have helped provide the food. The ritual sets the right tone in more ways than one.

Patterson and Tande, who also own Rain City Yoga, set out to run a restaurant that is environmentally supportive and sustainable on all levels. They and co-owners Aaron and Jan Geibel are vegetarians, or mostly so. Sutra is nominally vegetarian, too. You can get cream for your French-pressed Pangaea coffee and honey for your herbal tea. But Patterson's food is forthrightly vegan and it's astonishingly good.

With a cache of largely local, organic ingredients, Sutra celebrates vegetables, legumes, herbs, fruits, flowers and nuts. Flavor is rampant; creativity abounds. If your vision of vegan involves soy protein masquerading as meat, an epiphany awaits you in this unpretentious emerald-green nook where tables and chairs are slightly higher than normal, coaxing you into a healthy posture.

One menu opened with crackers and cheese: house-baked crackers made of sunflower seeds and raw flax; "cheese" crafted from finely ground hazelnuts fermented in lemon juice. Rolled in marjoram and peppercorns, the soft cheese revealed a tangy nuttiness. Spread on a cracker, topped with a sweet conserve of fig and thyme, sun-dried black olives and pickled fiddleheads, it was a startlingly piquant hors d'oeuvres.

Another meal began with soup and salad. The drab gray color of sunchoke and rhubarb soup belied its vibrancy — creamy with nary a drop of cream, tart and earthy at once, with a dash of chili powder for extra pizazz. Next to the soup, under a drizzle of tangelo and thyme, lay tender miner's lettuce laced with crisp, salty sea beans and crowned with fiddleheads dredged in sesame flour and baked.

Ingredients do repeat, even if dishes don't. Rhubarb merged with lemon grass in a tart pink sauce for a faux sushi roll, made of ricelike grains of cauliflower, pungent green nettle paste and pea shoots wrapped in perfectly ripe avocado slices.

Another evening, avocado became a satiny pool rippling with tart yuzu and peppercorn — sauce for a timbale of roasted cauliflower, this time the texture of couscous, blended with a gently garlicky cilantro pecan pesto, and topped with chopped asparagus.

Patterson's flavor choreography is seldom off-balance. He sometimes dazzles, as when a slinky red mole sauce, hinting of chocolate and marjoram, partnered with a voluptuous tamale. The masa enfolded a savory mix of house-smoked green lentils, mushrooms and cashew cheese. Lemon balm and raw tomato salsa contributed a flashy finish to the intense paso doble.

Smoked legumes and mushrooms go a long way toward soothing carnivorous cravings. I never missed meat in that tamale, or in a hearty stew of smoked garbanzos, caracara beans and diced Jerusalem artichoke simmered in tomato ragout — not with huge sautéed morels heaped atop the beans.

Nor did I miss the eggs and milk in a chilled, cinnamon-dusted, lemon-coconut tart on gluten-free gingersnap crust, or in puddinglike vanilla-coconut flan. Both desserts benefited from a zesty hit of Kaffir lime and raspberry sauce.

Sutra's wholesome mission extends to beverages, which include wine and beer, the majority local, organic and/or biodynamic, which is how I lured my spouse there. I expected swoons from my vegan colleague, but even Mr. Meat-and-Potato Head was smitten. Any open-minded omnivore would be.

Providence Cicero: providencecicero@aol.com

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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