Creating An Exclusive, Extraordinary Vegan Night Out In An Omnivore Venue

by | May 11, 2017 | Articles, Restaurant Reviews

May 4, 2017 was a beautiful and balmy evening in Old Towne Cottonwood, Arizona (just a stone’s through from Sedona). After a couple months of planning, the evening finally arrived. Veganification and Verde Valley Vegans, the Meetup Group that I sponsor/organize, converged upon Abbie’s Kitchen, a quaint, intimate artisan restaurant tucked inside a renovated bungalow.

  778 Main Street, Cottonwood, AZ 86326

For the entire evening, we had the restaurant all to ourselves. Now, I have to tell you that Abbie Ashford in not a vegan chef. In fact, her restaurant is not vegan nor vegetarian. However, that being said, Abbie is a culinary master. Typically, dining there is by reservation only. When you call, Abbie personally answers the phone; and even though she has a menu, she proceeds to ask you about your taste preferences and dietary requirements. After several times dining there, Abbie got to know my likes and dislikes; so when I call now, I just say, “surprise me”. Of course, I have never been disappointed. Abbie continues to delightfully astound this food snob’s palate with her dedication to culinary excellence.

Abbie Ashford

So, back to May 4….thirty people arrived, hungrily anticipating the evening’s prix fixe dinner extravaganza.

The dinner began with hummus and crudité with a garnish of roasted garlic cloves. Sugar snap peas alongside slices of cucumbers, carrots, and peppers made utensil-less vehicles to scoop up the hummus, which had a hint of lemon running through it. A nice way to awaken the palate for the next course.

Second course was a salad that was lightly dressed with Abbie’s homemade Moroccan lemon preserve dressing with a raw minted pea soup shooter, which had just the right amount of mint to make it apparent and enhance the flavor of the fresh peas but not overwhelming where it starts to taste like perfume (it is truly a work of art to get that flavorful balance done right).

The grilled platter was not your ordinary grilled veggies. We were delighted with peewee potatoes, asparagus, and fennel perched alongside an upright roasted tomato. What can I say, other than, YUM! The vegetables were warm yet still had a crispness to them. The integrity of each vegetable remained intact, even when topped with the herbaceous basil pine nut pesto, sans cheese.

Intermezzo – the palate cleanser – was a homemade lemon sorbet. A fresh and delicate way to acknowledge the introductory courses while preparing us for the Main Event …

Abbie’s quinoa and vegetable stuffed artichoke. Now, this was not just any artichoke. At any other restaurant where I’ve ordered a stuffed artichoke, they merely plopped a dollop of their ‘stuffing’ on the top of the middle leaves. Oh, but not Abbie. She first removed the choke, making the journey to the heart smooth sailing. She then filled not only that cavity with the stuffing but also stuffed all the leaves so that each leaf came off with a bite of quinoa and vegetables. So, let me tell you about the stuffing. This wasn’t your ordinary quinoa and vegetables. While it looked like simply quinoa that was tossed with some diced veggies, the flavor that Abbie imparted into that stuffing made it quite clear that she didn’t just throw this stuffing together. It was a very sophisticated mélange of flavors that beautifully complimented the earthiness of the artichoke leaf’s flesh. So, round and round we went, eating and savoring each leaf and its stuffing, dipping it sometimes first in melted compound herb butter that was served abreast the artichoke. Ah, fingers dripping from the ‘butter’, we got to the heart of the matter—the artichoke heart. It was delicate, soft, deliquescing in your mouth as it burst with its creamy, mildly somewhat nutty, sweetly earthy taste. I could have been done at this point, my palate who so incredibly sated…but wait, there was yet another course remaining…dessert!

If you’ve been following my blog, you might recall that I gave you my original recipe for my Limoncello Cake. It took five blog posts, Blogs 27-31, November 11-16, 2016. It starts with making homemade Limoncello, and then every component of the layer cake is all about the limoncello. Well, that was the main dessert offering.

However, for those individuals who avoid gluten and/or sugar, my friend Kaleah gave me her recipe for her raw chocolate cake topped with a vanilla cashew cream icing. Delightful!

And as if that wasn’t enough, Abbie brought out plates of chocolate dipped fresh strawberries with candied lemon peels.

As the night came to a close, we all decided that this MUST become an ongoing event. Thanks, Abbie Ashford and your staff for making May 4 truly A NIGHT TO REMEMBER AND SAVOUR!

Abbie, Luna, and Me

First Course

Hummus and Crudites with Roasted Garlic and Olives

Second Course

Moroccan Lemon Spring Harvest Salad with Minted Fresh Pea Soup Shooter

Third Course

Grill of Asparagus, Fennel, Potato, and Tomato Brushed with Basil Pesto

Fourth Course

Almond and Quinoa Filled Artichoke With Chive and Tarragon Compound “Butter”

Fifth Course

Veganification’s Limoncello Layer Cake With Dark Chocolate Dipped Strawberry

Pulling this event together was not all that difficult; and I encourage you to do the same thing in your neck of the woods. It is a wonderful way to expose restaurants to the ease of adding vegan offerings to their menu while creating a unique way to build community.

Once Abbie agreed to the idea of the event, together we crafted the menu.

We decided on a prix fixe menu that not only included all five courses but also included non-alcohol homemade beverages, coffee and tea service, taxes, and gratuities. The only extra that someone who have to pay for would be wine, beer, or other alcoholic beverage.

Next step was to develop the flyer, which I did pulling together logos and the menu into a document. Flyers were printed and distributed at the local health food stores and handed out during my cooking demonstrations. I also emailed the flyer to my Veganification and Verde Valley Vegan contacts.

I used the Veganification website as the vehicle for ticket purchases. Since my Veganification trademark was officially approved on April 18, I had pins and pens made, which were strategically placed at each place setting. Easy breezy, actually. In fact, by the time the evening came, I was dressed up and ready to roll. There really wasn’t anything for me to do but enjoy the company of good friends, new friends, and excellent food.

So, reach out to your favorite non-veg restaurant in your area and do the same. Heck, if you have any questions, you can always reach out to me. I would be more than happy to share my experience and documents.  We’re in this together.