June 2, 2007
Cuisine: Vegetarian, Eclectic & International, Health Food
611 S 7th St, Philadelphia 19147
At South Street
Appetizer I: Vietnamese Bruschetta – lemongrass braised tofu, red chile mayo, cilantro, scallion & mint relish ($7)
Appetizer II: Jamaican BBQ Seitan – cucumber ranch, habanero tamarind slaw ($8)
Entree I: Hearts of Palm Paella – grilled asparagus, seared valencian rice, saffron sauce, green olive & creamy roasted corn relish ($18)
Entree II: Pacific Rim Grilled Tofu – spicy kochujang glaze, ginger lime butter, edamame mashed potatoes, ponzu broccolini ($18)
Chocolate Mousse with Macadamia Nut Cookies ($6)
It is quite possible that my family was stunned when, among all the restaurants in the Philadelphia area, I chose to visit a vegan establishment for my graduation dinner. Most of my all-time favorite meals have indeed been built around juicy, succulent animal byproducts, but in recent years I have begun to develop an appreciation for healthy eating, and Horizons had long been near the top of the Gastronomer’s and my “must-try” list. Besides, I knew my mom would love it. I decided to take the plunge.
All in all, the food at Horizons blew me away. The meal began with some delicious foccacia and olive oil for dipping. The bread was totally addictive, and in anticipation of possibly being left hungry by the meatless later courses, I ended up eating far too much. I also downed a tasty mojito. Drinking at meals is a rarity for me, but hey, it was a night of celebration.
The Gastronomer and I decided to share two appetizers and two entrees in order to sample as much of the inventive menu as possible. We began with the Vietnamese Bruschetta and Jamaican Barbeque Seitan. The bruschetta featured a small slice of baguette topped with a slab of tofu and a delicate relish. The Gastronomer liked the spice of the red chile mayo smeared on the bread, but wished that the toppings had more of a kick. I agreed; the flavors were pleasant but didn’t really leave me longing for more.
On the other hand, the BBQ seitan was phenomenal. Horizons is famous for making soy and gluten products taste meat-like, which was certainly the case with this dish. The seitan had a stringy texture similar to pulled pork and efficiently soaked up the flavors of the sauce, which was sticky, sweet, tangy, and just plain brilliant. I can honestly say that the seitan was better than 95% of the barbecued meats I’ve eaten (and I live in Alabama). We passed the dish around for everyone to try a piece; sadly it was gone before we knew it.
For our entrees, we ordered the Hearts of Palm Paella and the Pacific Rim Grilled Tofu. Both were well executed; although nothing could match the astounding flavor of the BBQ seitan. The texture of the paella surprised us—instead of trying to mimic standard seafood paella, Horizons went for a novel form that was more like a cake of fried risotto. The Gastronomer loved how the hearts of palm had the texture of a vegetable, but boasted a tangy flavor unheard of among greens. She also commented that the saffron sauce was pretty, but not all that memorable from a taste standpoint. As someone who embraces mild flavors, I thoroughly enjoyed the sauce, which was a perfect accompaniment for the asparagus. Both of us could have done without the bell pepper stuffed with a mayo-based sauce.
The Pacific Rim Tofu was beautifully presented, but its mild flavors were a bit of a letdown for The Gastronomer. She informed me that tofu is at its best and most flavorful when it is marinated and deep fried rather than simply grilled. I still thought the dish was excellent, although I have to admit that the “spicy” glaze was hardly noticeable. The people at Horizons really know how to cook tofu; I wish I could achieve such beautiful grill marks and wonderful texture in my own backyard. The ponzu broccoli and edamame mashed potatoes were outstanding sides.
Upon finishing off the last of the tofu, I was amazingly stuffed—I had truly underestimated the substance of the meal. However, others at the table couldn’t resist trying some desserts. The dairy-free cheesecake was the standout; I don’t know how they did it, but it was one of the best pieces of cheesecake I’ve ever tasted. The Gastronomer shared the Chocolate Mousse with Macadamia Nut Cookie with my brother and sister. The cookie was tasty, but too crunchy; The Gastronomer still swears by Wes’s Famous Chocolate Chip Cookies. She thought the chocolate mousse was similar to a fine truffle, although she didn’t care much for the coconut coating.
The overall experience at Horizons exceeded my expectations: the menu offers uniform quality and a few true delicacies, and the presentation of the food is gorgeous. I would recommend Horizons to anyone looking for a delicious, reasonably priced fine dining experience, vegan or otherwise. My mom liked it so much that she purchased the Horizons cookbook on the spot.