Friday, May 20, 2016
Vive, East Avenue
Food About Town blog, from his restaurant reviews in City Newspaper, or if you're a curling participant or fan) and John Vito, former proprietor of the much-missed O'Bagelo's on State Street, as well as the author of the Food and Stories blog. (Every shmo with a computer has a blog these days, I guess. And I should know, having been at this for seven years and counting.)
We met at Vive Bistro and Bakery on East Avenue, which coincidentally is very near the former site of another of John's restaurant ventures, the shorter-lived but also memorable Baked and Carved.
Thanks to their awareness of my never-ending mission to seek out new pizzerias, and to boldly go where no pizza blogger has gone before, John and Chris correctly took it as a given that if we were going to meet up for dinner, it would almost certainly have to be at a place that serves pizza. So they let me suggest a place, and they agreed to meet at Vive, a vegan restaurant in the East End that bills itself as serving "artisanal French cuisine."
Now I'm not a vegan by any means, nor would I ordinarily be drawn to a vegan restaurant. But when I learned that Vive serves focaccia pizza, I added it to my to-do list, and I'd been meaning to check it out for some time. My wife and I had tried to stop for dinner a few weeks earlier, on a weekend night without a reservation, but the prospective 40-minute wait dissuaded us. On this early Thursday evening, my reservation proved unnecessary, and we got a table immediately.
I frankly didn't realize until after we got there that Vive is 100% vegan. When I had seen references on their online menu to Parmesan, ricotta, etc., I figured, OK, they don't do meat, but they still use animal products, including cheese. But I was incorrect in making that assumption. Vive's "cheeses" are all non-dairy; soy-based, I believe.
As I mentioned, what drew me to Vive was its pizza, specifically two focaccia pizzas, a Mediterranean and a tomato rabe pizza. The former is topped with herb pesto, roasted red peppers, kalamata olives, and Vive's take on Boursin cheese. (Boursin is actually a trademarked brand of Gournay cheese, so maybe it would be more accurate - or safe, from a legal standpoint - to refer to it as Gournay.) The tomato rabe pizza includes broccoli rabe, roasted onion, house ragout, and shaved Parmesan.
Vive also offers "Socca Pissa," which is not to be confused with the "wicked" variety. Socca Pissa is described as "a new twist to the traditional pissaladiere." Socca is a chickpea-based, gluten-free flatbread. Pissaladière, in turn, is a pizza-like dish that hails from Southern France. Traditionally, it's often topped with onions, olives and anchovies, on a medium-thick, tart-like crust.
At Vive, the Socca Pissa comes in three varieties: Pear and Fig (fig-and-black olive tapenade, arugula, pears, and blue cheese), Blanc (confit garlic, caramelized onions, artichokes, and ricotta), and Mushroom Florentine (roasted cremini, balsamic red onions, wilted spinach, and Parmesan spread).
With its wheat-based crust, the focaccia sounded closer to "regular" pizza than the Socca Pissa, so I opted for that. For no particular reason, I chose the Mediterranean.
It had a thick crust, rather pale all around, though not underdone. I wondered if it had been baked at a relatively low temperature, which caused the surface not to brown. So it lacked some of the flavor and aroma of good, freshly baked focaccia.
It wasn't bad, though. The crust had a tight crumb, but was not heavy or dense. The texture was somewhat biscuitlike, and there didn't seem to be a lot of gluten development. It was not overly dry, brittle or crumbly, but it wasn't very chewy either.
The crust's very plainness, however, made it serve admirably as a base for the toppings, which were quite flavorful. Bits of fresh herbs were visible in the pesto, which combined well with the salty olives, the slices of sweet, roasted red bell pepper, and the Boursin. I don't think I've ever had actual Boursin cheese, but I've seen it described as creamy yet slightly crumbly. Vive's version leaned more toward the crumbly than the creamy, and was reminiscent of a crumbly blue cheese. Overall, the combination was quite pleasing on the palate, with complex but harmonious flavors.
And that seemed, I'm happy to say, pretty typical of the food at Vive. This blog post is already longer than I'd anticipated, and I want to focus on the pizza, so I'll try to keep this brief, but we began by sharing a plate of tartines, which are essentially open-faced sandwiches similar to crostini. Of the four varieties that we had, the surprise standout was the avocado and grapefruit. Those aren't two ingredients I would've thought of putting together, to say the least, but they made for a happy marriage, with the citric acidity and tanginess of the grapefruit cutting through the buttery richness of the mashed avocado.
I also liked the acorn squash risotto with toasted pecans and parsnip ribbons, with its mix of creamy, crunchy and crisp textures. I'd rank the sweet potato gnocchi as the least successful dish, as the gnocchi had a slightly gummy texture; for me, texture typically takes precedence over flavor. But having said that, the flavor of the dish wasn't bad, with a puree of smoked cauliflower and caramelized onion as a base for the sweet potatoes.
All in all, I came away from Vive rather impressed. I knew that vegan meals can be good, so good that even omnivores like me won't miss the meat, but it takes creativity and skill to pull it off.
Vive did so. Vegan here doesn't mean just hockey-puck black bean burgers and fried, rubbery tofu. The ingredient combinations were innovative, well-thought-out, and well-executed. I'd like to go back. I might even discover that chickpeas make for one wicked pissa crust.
Vive Bistro and Bakery, 130 East Ave., Rochester
Lunch daily 11 - 3
Dinner Mon. - Thu. 5 - 9, Fri. & Sat. 5 - 10