Specializing in “vegan fine dining,” this aspirational and well-timed West Valley eatery goes where no local restaurant has gone before.
According to Forbes, The Economist and The Guardian, 2019 is the year of the vegan, a pronouncement that rings especially true here in meat-and-potatoes Phoenix, where forward-thinking restaurants of every stripe now offer vegan options to a growing audience. Even fish-centric Sushi Roku turns out remarkably good vegan omakase these days, which suggests that veganism has left the fringe and entered the mainstream.
Perhaps it was inevitable, then, that someone would plunge into Valley veganism’s final frontier – an honest-to-Gandhi “fine dining” restaurant. That person turned out to be longtime vegan caterer Jason Wyrick, who opened Casa Terra this past spring in downtown Glendale. Wyrick, who reversed his diabetes on a whole-food, plant-based diet, obviously has exquisite timing, and his restaurant is eloquent proof that vegan food can be elegant and satisfying.
Transforming the former Zang Asian Bistro space into a graceful retreat sporting white tablecloths and a wine cellar, Wyrick hopes to draw a wider audience than the usual Birkenstock crowd. His menu focuses on veggie-based reinventions of Latin classics, each dish presented with the artful smears and drizzles associated with fine dining. Meals begin with crispy complimentary flatbread with tomatillo salsa and cucumber-infused water, small touches that set an elevated tone.
Bright vegan ceviche – a colorful tower of beets, avocado, pickled veggies and heart of palm set in a citrusy, beet-tinted moat and served with crisp, house-made corn chips – is fantastic. Ditto for garlicky, velvet-textured salmorejo (gazpacho’s heartier bread- and tomato-based cousin), crunchy with smoked almonds. Truffled arancini – filled with mushroom duxelles and set in a puddle of nutty romesco – are good, but I’ve had better.
Sadly, three of my favorite dishes – jicama crudo, chiles en nogada and charred shishitos – will soon be expunged as the seasonal menu is tweaked. (Wyrick also parted ways with the original chef de cuisine who created them.) These standouts could satisfy the most die-hard omnivore, which is not true of the cheese platter featuring mozzarella, ricotta and Aleppo queso fresco, all house-made from almond butter. Flatbread, olives and membrillo accompaniments can’t change the fact that the cheeses taste like what they are: substitutes. Creamy, wood-fired white pizza (another cheese-centric dish) topped with arugula, is more successful, but the pie’s cracker-like crust needs retooling. It can’t touch La Grande Orange’s Dalai Lama, an excellent vegan pizza that puts the emphasis on the veggies, not the cheese.
But you won’t miss meat or dairy with either of these two fabulous entrées: pibil-style oyster mushrooms add meaty texture to a fragrant, achiote-tinted tamale set alongside a puddle of tart pipián verde (green mole made with tomatillo and pumpkin seeds), while the same mushrooms are smoked and added to an ultra-rich cazuela (casserole) containing cilantro-flecked green rice, fava beans, toasted yellow split peas and mole amarillo (yellow mole sparked with guajillo chiles).
Wyrick makes a compelling argument for veganism – be it for a lifetime or an excitingly meatless one-night stand.
Contact: 6835 N. 58th Dr., Glendale, 623-230-2289, casaterra.com
Hours: W-Th, Su 5-9 p.m.; F-Sa 5-10 p.m.
Highlights: Hearts of palm ceviche ($13); salmorejo ($8); tamal ($20); smoked mushroom cazuela ($24); flan ($8)