Sunday, March 10, 2013

Vegan alla Italiana

I met up with Paul at Ten Belles yesterday--easily the sunniest, warmest day so far this year--to talk creative projects over a good cup of caffeine-saturated drip coffee. It was my first time at this hipster cafe, where everyone, including the studly Australian barrista, looked like they sauntered off the pages of Paris Hipster magazine. (Has anyone started that yet? I think it would sell.)

The meetup was productive and the coffee was tasty. I didn't expect them to have any vegan options on the carte, but I went ahead and asked Studly Australian Dude (SAD) anyway, and he just cocked his head to the side and repeated "vegan?" back to me as if he'd never heard the word before. OK. That's alright.

But while Paul and I said our goodbyes on the trottoir outside the cafe, the word "vegan" chalked onto a sign next door caught my eye. I resisted the urge to grab SAD by his arm and drag him over to his neighbor's sign. Instead, I window-licked for a minute (that's what the French call window-shopping), then popped into Carmen Ragosta for a good look.

Head downstairs to the artist's atelier .
It was love at first sight; cute dog? Oh, hell yes. Effervescent Neapolitan who speaks to me in hybrid English-French-Italian? Mmmhmmm. Fabulous clothes, too. And vegan shoes in candy colors. And yummy smells wafting out of the ... kitchen! This is where dreams magically erupt into delicious reality. I mean, is there anything more enticing than the thought of eating vegan tiramisu while shopping for one-of-a-kind dresses, capes, and jackets?

I stayed for a good half-hour, chatting with Carmen about her life and her art and ideas, and when I found out she was open on Sundays, I promised to return the following day to taste her home-made cuisine, sip a glass of Montepulciano, and fondle some more of those delectable Melissa shoes that call out from every corner.

I love those pink-and-red Melissa shoes.

An arty vibe permeates every inch of space at Carmen Ragosta.
A beautiful bloom decorates each table. 
We rolled up to Carmen Ragosta on a gray and nippy Sunday, slightly sleep deprived from the previous night's festivities but hungry and excited to branch out of our usual weekend habit and try something new. Carmen was surprised to see us, "I deedn't thinka you would-a come-a, because-a it's so, how do you say, not-a very nice outside."

We sat down, and didn't order, because you don't do that at Carmen Ragosta; you eat what Carmen cooks. If you're vegan, you get a lovely plate of food that might include risotto, seasonal vegetables, unusual salad combinations (yam and fennel? Interesting! And miamy.), savory croquettes, and bread. If you're vegetarian, you have the option of having cheese sprinkled over your meal, and, maybe an extra thing or two that has cheese inside, like eggplant Parmiagiana.

Pretty clothes representing the colors of late winter and early spring.

The plat du jour: Risotta with beans, a savory croquette, braised endive, poached pear, and different salads.

I loved my lunch, which (as is nearly always the case) I didn't think would be filling when the plate was first set before me. My favorite component was the braised endive with almonds and raisins, cooked in a balsamic reduction sauce. (I think.)

Pippo, the friendly, heat-loving dog-of-the-house
For dessert, we had espresso and tiramisu. I'm a total newbie on the tiramisu front, but I loved Carmen's version--a creamy, not-too-sweet melange that tasted of coffee, Speculoos, and vanilla.

This is what vegan tiramisu looks like.

The vivacious, friendly, and talented Carmen, on her way to her magic kitchen.

Do you remember these bags from high school?
I have to thank Alcyone Wemaere, the author of Paris Vegetarien, for turning me onto this special place. And I have to apologize to all my girlfriends who didn't get to do vegan Italian when visiting me in Paris. When you come back for another visit, I'll take you here!