and I have long had an unrequited love affair. I knew, just knew, that I would go completely ga-ga after stepping foot into the vegan Korean restaurant, located at 6207 N. Milwaukee Avenue. I just couldn't get that foot in the door.
I had tried to get my all-male supper club to check it out a few years ago, but my choice wasn't "accepted." (Guess who wasn't in supper club much longer?) I've since tried to get Steamer, friends, visitors from California and anyone with a pulse up to the spot. The distance was a big deterrent. You can take the Blue Line to Jefferson Park and then haul it north on the Milwaukee bus, but that's a long way to go for a plate of healthy vegetables. And so I pined for Amitabul until I found the perfect dinnermate: Miss Green Thumb herself.
Armed with someone who loved vegetables as much—if not more—than I do, we hopped in her car, swallowing the carbon emissions for the sake of swallowing tofu. On the drive up, I realized that the eatery sits quite close to the entrance of the North Branch Trail, making it a good-for-the-body-and-soul reward for finishing future rides along the trail.
We parked easily and took quick note of the vegetarian accolades plastered to the front door. The place isn't much to write home about—minty walls, a picture of the Dalai Lama with Richard Gere, old booths with taped-over tears in the vinyl. But I wasn't there for the ambiance, which, upon second look, had a few highlights. The patrons were nothing like what I expected—an elderly Eastern European couple (the husband loudly insisting that yes, he wanted his dish hot), a family with a toddler and two middle-age men. The come-as-you-are mix got even better when paired with its BYO wine policy. We were handed two glasses and an opener before even seeing a menu, and no sooner had I cracked the bottle than I felt at home.
When I picked up the wine from Provenance Food & Wine, I asked for a recommendation for our vegan feast. My answer: a $13.49 Vesevo Sannio Falanghina, an Italian white whose name is a nod to the volcano Vesuvio and its oddly life-giving properties—that it returned to the land what it took from it, right down to soil favorable for wine growing. The whole thing felt pretty historic—though the Falanghina grape draws comparisons to Pinot Grigio, it's thought to be an ancestor of the key grape in Falernum, a wine that the Roman elite drank 2,000 years ago.
We might be swilling the good stuff, but this was not an elite meal. Entrees cost $8.95 or $9.95, with no deviation. We alternated sips of the straw-colored wine with bursts of excitement about the menu, which was divided into three major sections: specials, noodle soup and steamed-stir noodles (plus some bi bim bop, tofu young patties and dry-grilled pancakes). The choice seemed impossible, but we were able to cut down the lot: I wanted plenty of tofu and veggies; Greenie wanted mucho mushrooms.
I ordered Green and Greener Nirvana, "heavenly green veggies" with chunks of tofu and seaweed; she opted for Dark Side of Moon, with "heavenly oyster mushrooms" steam stir-fried with wheat noodles, more mushrooms and a black bean miso sauce.
And boy, was it heavenly, one of those tasty meals that you know just heals your insides. My plate was a burst of green, hers a deep purple-black. The rich wine tasted of melon, with a light body and slight zing that didn't obliterate the freshness or slight spice of the dish (I ordered mine very spicy, but it didn't knock me over, intensity-wise). I paired together bites of brown rice, broccoli, tofu and savored the super healthiness of it all. As someone accustomed to feeling blissful and balloon-like after downing, say, an order of pad Thai, it was utterly refreshing to feel blissful and lean after an Asian meal. Like nirvana, even.
Zinny Fandel's tales of living the (mostly) BYOB life are intended to be attempted at home and in the community, preferably at BYOB restaurants. If you know of a BYOB spot she simply must tipple at, let her know.