Don't have a cow

Mar 9, 2005 at 12:00 am

Strict vegetarians make up a small percent age of the population nationwide, although vegetarianism is apparently more popular among twentysomethings. If meat-shunning grows in popularity as time goes on, then Michele Rastelli, the 25-year-old owner of Moo Moo’s Organic Bistro, has her finger on the right pulse.

Opened Jan. 3, near the Detroit border, purple-walled Moo Moo’s is serving inexpensive breakfasts, salads, entrées and sandwiches, half of them vegan, all of them as healthy as a brisk walk around the block. Even when a dish includes a bit of cheese, it may be soy cheese.

Rastelli (childhood nickname: Moo Moo) created all of the recipes and does half of the cooking at the restaurant. Like many vegetarians, she bases her philosophy not just on what’s healthy for humans but on compassion for those we pig out on. She turned vegetarian when she got her first dog at age 13: “I saw how animals have a personality.”

Even fish? Moo Moo’s menu includes no fish and very little dairy. But vegetarians get tetchy when you talk about what they don’t eat. Rastelli serves seitan (wheat gluten or “wheat meat”), tofu, edamame (fresh soybeans), granola, soy milk, bulghur, chickpeas and, of course, every vegetable from arugula to zucchini. Those looking for some fat content will have to find it in their avocado.

One of Moo Moo’s most popular dishes is noodle-less vegetable lasagna. A thick layer of tofu sits on top, supported by eggplant, spinach, portabella, zucchini, squash and imitation Parmesan and Romano. To my mind, this dish proves a truth about eggplant: that it deserves to be fried in plenty of oil. If it’s not, it tends to be woody.

More tasty is a roasted cashew stir-fry with whole-wheat linguine. Cabbage, cashews and pineapple are the prominent flavors here, which sounds like a mismatch, but works. Like most of Moo Moo’s dishes, this one is served on a bed of fresh baby spinach.

You might not think of pairing oregano with sweet potatoes, but Rastelli pulls it off in her roasted sweet potato wild rice balls. But the walnuts are what make this dish.

Some of Moo Moo’s dishes tend to be too soft and too all-one-flavor — a frequent result, paradoxically, of too many ingredients. The poblano chick patties taste just of undifferentiated “medium-hot,” but their accompaniment, a pale green cilantro-lime tzatziki, is tart, sweet and refreshing. More fiery is the chile polenta relleno, which stuffs a poblano with goat cheese; but it’s pretty soft as well.

A baby spinach salad is dressed with a tangy house low-fat vinaigrette that contains, surprisingly, pineapple juice. The tofu in the salad has a crunchy crust made of veggie “Parmesan,” fresh basil and balsamic vinegar. Red onion adds bite to this and to a creamy goat cheese-red pepper salad on mixed greens. The latter is perhaps the most traditional of Moo Moo’s salads; two others are wild mushroom tempeh and raw sunflower seeds, beets and carrots with feta. And Rastelli serves a chop of cukes, avocados, green and purple cabbage, carrots and scallions — with peanut sauce.

I’ll admit that my favorite dish at Moo Moo’s was a dessert-like paté. Toasted walnuts are mixed with a bit of honey and toasted almond oil and a very ripe banana. I spread it on a warm homemade brownie (not available at Moo Moo’s) and felt no guilt at all.

In its short life, Moo Moo’s has already been getting its goods around town. Rastelli has been catering wine tastings and art openings, such as Pewabic Pottery’s upcoming spring show, March 25. You can pick up packaged entrées at Papa Joe’s, Harbortown Market, Western Market, Hollywood Market, Hiller’s Markets and other locations. And if you want Moo Moo’s to put together a whole week of healthy eating for you, you can come in and get help working up a meal plan, breakfast, lunch and dinner. (Breakfasts include tofu quiche; cookies of oats, apples, ground flax and more; and a baked banana-peach-oats-almonds concoction.)

By the time you read this, Moo Moo’s will likely be ready for sit-down dining; it was carry-out only for the first couple of months. A forthcoming Web site will be at

Moo Moo’s is open 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday through Friday and, 11 a.m-3 p.m. Saturdays.

Jane Slaughter dines for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].