Published August 23. 2012 4:00AM Updated August 23. 2012 8:18AM
Like any good college student at the time, I went through a somewhat experimental phase in which I tried out veganism, an organic food diet and a few other now embarrassing "lifestyle choices." But it was fairly short lived, as the lure of meats, cheeses and processed foods pulled me back to the life of an omnivore.
However, my culinary net is still cast wide, and I've kept a place in my heart, and certainly my belly, for good vegetarian food. I have to say the new restaurant Six Main in Chester takes this style of cooking to a new and inventive level.
Rachel Carr, a raw food chef and health food educator, opened the restaurant located in the 1902 Chester Savings Bank building on Main Street after stints as executive chef at Cru Restaurant, a well-regarded raw vegan restaurant in Los Angeles, and at the raw food SunCafe in Studio City, Calif.
Six Main cooks with produce and cheeses sourced from local farms whenever possible. This includes seasonal vegetables from Upper Pond Farm in Old Lyme and owner Bill de Jonge, who is partnering with Carr for a farm-to-table experience.
The location of Six Main is quite serene. The building sits alongside a placid brook just north of Griswold Pond. The dining area is one large room at the front of the former bank. It struck me as clean and simple: light blue walls, dark wood floors and small candles at each table and on the window sills.
The first thing I noticed when I tried my appetizers was the freshness of the ingredients. This was particularly true of the elegantly presented wild mushroom cucumber spring roll with avocado, herb, cucumber wrapper, chili oil and Asian slaw.
I also tried the grilled Mediterranean flatbread with white bean hummus, kalamata tapenade, cherry tomatoes and basil. This starter had that grilled, almost charred, taste to it, and it was probably the best choice for any group looking to share an appetizer. My table also tried the highly recommendable roasted beets with chive ricotta and chevre, pistachio, pea shoots, aged balsamic, chive oil and coarse Celtic salt.
Six Main had creative cocktails as well, including a strawberry rosemary margarita, ginger gimlet and smokey summer with lemonade and twig tea-infused Maker's Mark Bourbon. The non-alcoholic drinks and juices were quite good, too. I tried the tangerine chamomile and ginger cocktail, and the passion fruit turmeric gingerale.
I went with my parents and brother, and we tried several entrees when it came time for our main courses. My father, who's known for holding court and sometimes engaging (or boring, depending on your perspective) waitresses with details of our family ancestry, fell uncharacteristically quiet as he began to eat his chili-glazed tofu with summer vegetables, organic brown rice and toasted cashews. He interrupted his eating to say, "Fabulous."
My favorite entrée was probably the red pepper tagliatelle with farm egg carbonara, handmade pasta, spinach and wild mushroom. The raw walnut chorizo tostada was arguably the most innovative dish. Gluten free and vegan, it was a sundried tomato and flax tostada shell with salsa, radish jicama slaw, guacamole, cashew crema and pepita chorizo. The eggplant lasagna with micro herb salad was very well done.
Something that's always impressed me about vegan restaurants is the methods they come up with to create meat and dairy substitutes. To this point, I was wowed by the desserts at Six Main. We tried the key lime pie made with avocado (although you would never guess it), as well as the berry cheesecake made with cashew cream and the peach cobbler made with a combination of avocado and cashew cream. These were all excellent, and they had that hard-to-pin-down taste of a sweet but relatively healthy vegan dessert.
One thing that did surprise me on my visit was the crowd at Six Main. As a 20-something-year-old, I'm accustomed to going to vegetarian restaurants frequented by, let's say, younger people with tattoos, skinny jeans and piercings where you might not traditionally think a piercing went. And there were some younger, hipper guests at Six Main, but the average diner seemed to be in his or her mid-40s to mid-50s. The attire was also more casual to country club style than trendy. I say this only so some restaurant-goers aren't scared off by pre-conceived ideas they may have about a new, cool vegetarian establishment.
Six Main is probably one of the more expensive vegetarian places I've been to. But considering the fact that it's organic, high-end dining, the prices are very reasonable: entrees running between $15 and $20 and appetizers from $5 for a cup of soup to $12 for group nachos or a maple glazed string bean and spinach salad.
So, as I finished my meal last Friday, I began to think: maybe I could make vegetarianism work if I gave it another go. That's, of course, if I could eat breakfast, lunch and dinner at Six Main.