About a year ago I discovered Mint Restaurant in Waitsfield, a lovely village in Vermont’s Mad River Valley. It’s about a 45 minute drive for me but I try and make it down whenever I can. (The drive is beautiful too.) Savitri and Iliyan are the creators, and do it all! They came to Vermont from the opposite corner of the US in just about every way (LA), and before that from Hungary and Bulgaria respectively. And they bring a love of inventive, richly and complexly flavorful, and healthy dishes inspired by cuisines from all over the world.
(photos from the Mint website except where noted)
What makes for a truly special restaurant? I think you have to start with environment. It’s true that I’ve occasionally had great food in “hole-in-the-walls” – remembering a South Indian restaurant in South London which was a few formica tables stuck in what felt like a 1950s kitchen, harsh lighting, mostly bare white walls, but whose food was out of this world.
But an uplifting, restful, warm environent raises a meal to a whole other level. And I appreciate spaces in which all the details – materials, colors, design, lighting, music – are carefully chosen and thought through. When I step into such a room, something inside instantly relaxes and feels it is at home. I actually feel more nourished, and definitely more cheerful and peaceful, after such a meal.
Moving on to food, Mint is special in several ways. Firstly, it is actually vegetarian! That exclamation point is there because, as someone who has been a veggie since high school, a vegetarian restaurant in and of itself is a MAJOR EVENT. At least it is here in Vermont (I believe Mint is the only such restaurant in the state). Meat-eaters take for granted that when they pick up a menu they have the choice of the whole thing. Vegetarians take for granted that when they do the same, usually at least 3/4 of it, often more, has to be filtered out immediately in order to focus on the 2 or 3 choices there will be for a main course. And for some reason these will often be fairly unimaginative, alas. So it’s such a luxury to know that literally everything is orderable. To not be a second-class citizen for a change!
Secondly, the menu changes every week. There is one starter that is a regular feature, the fabulous “Mint salad” (baby spinach, baby arugula, snow pea sprouts, pears, toasted almonds, shaved Parmigiano Reggiano and fruit juice sweetened cranberries, tossed in a mint vinaigrette), and one main course (a large bowl of curly kale steamed and braised in tamari, garlic, orange juice, fruit juice sweetened cranberries, steamed broccoli, black turtle beans, brown rice and creamy tofu sauce). Apart from these, four new starters and four new main courses appear each week. So there is always something different to try.
Ingredients are, of course, at peak freshness, and organic and local whenever possible. But what’s best about dinner at Mint is that every dish has been created, with artistry. Nothing is taken for granted, neither flavors, textures, or colors. The dishes are just consistently delicious, often with deep, rich flavors, and beautiful to look at. Even in the case of more familiar items, there are often one or two touches that surprise me – some idea or ingredient or variety of sauce I hadn’t come across in that context.
(photo taken by me – though I only had the idea after starting to eat, hence that half stuffed grape leaf…)
And then it’s the sheer range of styles too that’s special. Have a look at a few of their menus from week to week. Only those meat-eaters who feel they simply need to have meat at every meal would miss it at Mint. And even then, if part of that craving is textural, I would recommend checking out what Iliyan can do with tempeh, which involves part-baking (along with marination) and is really special. Or seitan for that matter.
The menu is rounded off with a few desserts – equally distinctively Mint – and an extensive selection of excellent teas. Coffee, beer, and wine are also available.
Mint survived major flooding damage due to Hurricane Irene in 2011 despite failing to receive any compensation from their insurance company. Savitri and Iliyan reopened a year ago, on New Year’s Eve, and I’m very glad they did. I find a great meal to be such a celebration of life, bringing much good cheer.
So if you live in or visit Vermont, I do recommend stopping by. And to Mint a big thanks for all you do – joyful New Year!