ABQ Alibi: A Bite of Sunshine
Vibrance offers up plant-based dining in a bright, leafy space
As long as I have frequented the reaches of Silver, I still failed to notice the restaurant that sprang up last summer at its intersection with Jefferson. Reigned in by a large brick wall that hides a sizable parking area and an equally roomy building, is a sunny restaurant called Vibrance. After the fold of spots like Vital Foods and the very-much-missed Mint Tulip, Vibrance fills a void for vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free foodies, especially those with a health-conscious bent. (i.e., Every menu item is tagged as “vegan,” “live” or “gluten free.” Some people find this onerous, but as someone with dietary restrictions, I find it encouraging.) On one particular Friday in late December, I met a friend for lunch there at precisely noon.
As I stepped inside from the gravel parking lot, I was greeted by an attentive server and directed to select any table I liked in the airy space of washed, cream-colored walls and tiled floors. I took a turn around the front room—where four or five tables were already filled—and peeked through the French doors into a second area lined with sofas and overstuffed chairs. I chose a table in the first room on the east wall, and when my friend arrived, we ordered up drinks—a house-made kombucha ($3.50) for me and a hibiscus tea spiked with fruit ($3.50) for her. It took an inordinately long time for the drinks to be brought to us, but the company was good and I wasn't in any rush. Plus, a complimentary dish of seedy, curried crackers and a thick flax-laden bread had already been brought out to sate us while we decided what to order. After that long interval, two thin-walled glass cups were delivered to our table, and we sipped and continued our conversation. I was in the middle of explaining some second-hand gossip when my friend interrupted me—“This tastes like water,” she hoisted her pale red hibiscus tea in my direction. I tried it and nodded my agreement. My green tea kombucha, in contrast, was slightly bitter but effervescent—the perfect drink to sip slowly with lunch. Our server soon returned, replaced the hibiscus drink with a freshly made one—stronger in both taste and color—and delivered our appetizer of salad rolls ($4.95). The two spring rolls served on white china, stuffed with cabbage, yellow and green peppers, carrots, bok choy and mint, were light and perfectly complemented by a sweet cashew sauce with a single date resting in the paste. When the server came to collect our now-empty plates, he took our orders. I know it's dining blasphemy, but we both wanted the same thing, so we ordered two Italian mushroom pockets ($10.25 each). I opted for a side of homemade sauerkraut, while my friend chose the lentil soup.
The small serving of sauerkraut was served in a white bowl, and the cabbage was nearly pearled rather than shredded, adding a new and interesting texture to a subtle (but always delicious) dish. I reached across the table and sampled my companion's soup, which was sprinkled with nori and sunflower shoots. It was lightly curried and deeply warming, the kind of hearty soup I dream of during late winter.
Just as we finished these small palate primers, our mushroom pockets arrived. Dissecting the china into two clean halves was one thick empanada and, on the other side of the plate, a small salad of spiralized zucchini and carrot, with discs of radish on top. Stuffed inside a hearty dough—which miraculously tasted like whole wheat despite being gluten-free—were chopped portobello mushrooms, herbs and spinach. The whole thing was doused in a spoonful of chunky marinara. A healthful reimagining of the satisfying, slow-burning lunchtime sandwich, the dish was light enough to leave me feeling buoyant, but still managed to quell my hunger in a way only carbs can. The dish was subtle in its flavors, but still a worthwhile choice in my eyes.
Our server soon tried to deliver the bill, but we stopped him before the white receipt paper could meet the white tablecloth. We wanted dessert. It's not every day that a vegan and a gluten-free diner can order cheesecake ($7.50) and a fruit tart ($6). The server soon delivered the sliver of chocolate and caramel cheesecake to our table and the tart, topped with raspberries and blueberries, all on that ubiquitous shining white dishware. The presentation of my cheesecake was impeccable—a dusting of cocoa, a garnish of strawberries and a creamy sauce enveloping the marbled slice of cake. Lush and nutty, the cheesecake was a total indulgence, but one that I am happy to know I can spoil myself with any time (okay, any time during Vibrance's operating hours).
Later trips back to Vibrance have revealed the restaurant's consistency—not a place to stop by if you're in a rush, but a place where the food takes time to prepare and should be savored with equal slowness, ideally over long conversations with old friends (maybe with wine? Because yes, they also serve wine); a place where every dish on the menu is bright and fresh and so is the ambiance—a place full of plants and sunshine, tables garnished with glass bowls of water, handfuls of daisies floating in each. You're not likely to be disappointed if you take the time to slow down with Vibrance.