Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Pulse Cafe: Food That Won't Get Your Pulse Racing

The Pulse Café, located on 195 Elm Street (near Davis Square) in Somerville, is a new vegan restaurant that just completed its first month of business. The name surprisingly does not refer to the pulse caused by the rhythmic contractions of the heart, but in fact to “an annual leguminous crop yielding grains or seeds inside a pod.” Pulses are important food crops due to their high protein content, which makes this a nice choice of name for a restaurant that does not include any kind of animal product on their menu.

The Pulse’s dining room is small and colorful with bright orange-red walls and big windows. It was crowded during my visit and there were a few issues with organization and seating, but this is common for restaurants in the early stages of their existence, when management and staff are still working through all the kinks. Our waitress was very friendly and enthusiastic about the food. The food, however, was nothing to really be enthusiastic about.

My friend and I ordered a few appetizers: the nacho plate ($8) and the mushroom “calamari” ($7). These items were the best part of the meal but still hover around an average rating of “good, but not great.” The nacho chips are made in house and were quite nice, cut thick and fried to a crispy, dark golden brown. The chips, the only standout aspect of the dish, are topped with your average guacamole, salsa, refried pinto beans, jalapenos, and a convincing imitation sour cream. The oyster mushroom calamari had great crispy but chewy texture and a lot of flavor courtesy of the rosemary and thyme seasoned cornmeal, but was actually a bit on the salty side.

For the main course, I ordered the lasagna ($13), consisting of breaded eggplant, mushroom, spinach, and tofu-ricotta, and served with a side of garlic bread and seared kale. The kale had a strong smoky undertone to it and was delicious; the garlic bread had good flavor but was so hard it was difficult to bite in to, and the lasagna itself was okay if you’re a vegan and have forgotten what ricotta cheese tastes like. I, unfortunately, remember quite well, and while the consistency of the tofu was reminiscent of ricotta, the taste was not, and this had a big impact on the dish as a whole. My friend ordered the Tuscan beans ($12), consisting of white beans simmered with mushrooms, shallots, sage, garlic and kale and served with grilled polenta. She was satisfied and I realized it was a smart choice because this dish was not begging for comparison to a non-vegan counterpart.

Overall The Pulse Café is a place best left to vegan clientele, which is absolutely a legitimate market for a restaurant in Davis Square to pursue. But considering that success by that standard involves impressing vegan restaurant-goers and enticing them to come back for more, it’s probably a bad sign that the vegan friend who accompanied me on my excursion to The Pulse summed her experience with the timeless cliché of the truly indifferent: “It was nothing to write home about.”

The Pulse Cafe is open Tuesday through Thursday, 5pm - 9pm, Friday - Saturday, 5pm - 10pm, and will soon be open for Sunday brunch from 9am - 3pm. (617)625-1730

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