Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Sublime, Fort Lauderdale

For so many years I have heard such good things about Sublime. I dreamed of the day when I would finally visit what I believed to be one of the top vegan restaurants in the U.S.  So when I had the opportunity to go to Tampa, I decided instead to fly into Fort Lauderdale, dine at Sublime, then drive up to Tampa, which was a 5-hour drive. My expectations were high and I was super excited.

Sublime has been touted as the best vegan restaurant in Florida. Owned by Nanci Alexander, this restaurant donates 100% of its profits to organizations that promote animal welfare, which is really remarkable. In 1989, Nanci founded the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida and has been volunteering as president ever since.

When I arrived, I was in awe at the sheer size of this restaurant, but not necessarily in a good way. It was huge. In fact, you had to drive under its arch to get to the parking lot. Inside, the large restaurant had sky-high ceilings, a cascading waterfall, and and colorful artwork. To the right of the entrance, there is a large bar while the rest of the space was used for dining. When I remarked on the size, I guess what I was thinking is that it would have an upscale feel - by the sheer size of the restaurant, even though it was dimly lit, it did not have an upscale feel.

Once I was seated, I took a look at the wine list. It was pretty unimpressive. I didn't recognize many of the wines, but I had the feeling they weren't fine wines. My waitress was very casual in her approach and demeanor. She said she liked the Kaina Cabernet Sauvignon from Argentina so I asked if I could try it. I found it to be cheap-tasting. Instead, I ordered the Lamadrid Malbec from Argentina. This was a full-bodied, rich Malbec that was pretty palatable.

An amuse of baked polenta with basil chiffonade was served instead of bread. It was tasty, but really lacked a sauce either on top of it or for dipping. It was pretty dry without one.

My waitress told me that the items on the menu that had a box around them were their signature dishes and she recommended all of them. The appetizer that she recommended though sounded very similar to many other cauliflower dishes that I have had in the past. I wanted to try something different so I ordered the Crispy Eggplant Rollatini. When it arrived, I felt it was a bit sloppy of a presentation. At first glance, it looked nice, but then I realized that the rollatinis were vastly different in length and they appeared to have just been made and placed randomly on this plate. They appeared to have been deep-fried, but when I asked, my waitress said they were pan-fried. Hmmmm...when I tasted them, they tasted deep-fried as well. The eggplant was filled with tofu ricotta and was supposed to have vegan mozzarella somewhere as well, but I never tasted it. In fact, I didn't taste much. The breading was too thick and had too much of a fried taste to even taste the eggplant. The tofu ricotta was fine -- nothing special. The same could be said of the tomato sauce, which tasted like a bad homemade sauce. The basil chiffonade was the same as it as on the polenta. The garlic butter on the side was a nice touch though.

For my entree, I went with the signature dish -- the Mushroom Ravioli. When it came out, I had high hopes as it looked pretty good. These hopes were crushed by the first bite of the dry housemade pasta. I mean, it was really dry -- not moist and fresh the way fresh pasta should be. The mushroom puree and cashew cream inside tasted more like a mushroom pate -- there just wasn't much to it. The slow roasted butter sauce, however, was a nice, light sauce. But, then there was that basil chiffonade again -- I think that was way too much basil chiffonade for one night.

I figured that the one thing all vegan restaurants get right is the dessert so I ordered the Chocolate Nirvana cake. The presentation was quite nice, but the taste left much to be desired. This chocolate cake has to be the driest chocolate cake I have ever had in a vegan restaurant. I mean, it was so dry, I didn't even finish it, which almost never happens. Was it the hot, dry Florida air that dried everything out? Doubtful. It tasted like a chocolate cake that had been sitting in the refrigerator for a week -- that kind of dry.

At one point, the owner, Nanci, stopped by to talk to me. She was incredibly nice. She walked me over to the wall to show me some of the awards she had been presented by PETA, then brought me her media book that showed all the press the restaurant had gotten. She even mentioned that there was a building in DC dedicated in her name. I will have to check that out.

Meeting Nanci made this review even more difficult to write. She is an incredibly nice and caring person and I really appreciate what she is doing for the animals. But, I can not in clear conscience write a positive review about the food. I was incredibly disappointed in the end. This was no Candle wasn't even as good as Native Foods. From what I can tell, it appears the cuisine has been going downhill over the past couple of years. I think at one point, they were one of the top restaurants in the country, but not any longer. I mean they don't even make their own seitan -- instead they serve gardein as their main meat analog. If I want gardein, I'll pick it up at Whole Foods and prepare it the way I like it.  So, in the end, I found the food, service, and ambiance disappointing. I would not recommend going out of your way to visit Sublime.

1431 N. Federal Highway
Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33304
(954) 615-1431

Sublime on Urbanspoon


  1. Living in S. Florida can be tough on a vegan. When I became one eight years ago, Sublime was the only vegan restaurant in S. Florida, and it is a 45 minute drive away from me. Nevertheless, we would make the trip, and we found it to be one of the best restaurants we'd ever been to, even as non-vegans. And the fact that all the profits are donated makes it even more incredible. Due to this, I admittedly have trouble agreeing with your perception of Sublime's food and atmosphere, but I must admit that, sadly, the quality has declined over the years.

    I have had the Chocolate Nirvana Cake, and in my opinion it was amazing. Other foods I have ordered there have also been always delicious. I also really love the design, atmosphere, and elegance of the restaurant. To me, it is a very elegant place to dine. I, however, have not had much else to compare it to. Recently, Darbster and Christopher's Kitchen have opened in my area, but neither compare to Sublime. They also are all for-profit. Thus, I truly appreciate Sublime for what is offers: a fully vegan menu, elegant restaurant setting, delicious food, and charity for animals. Complaining about Sublime does feel a bit like criticizing Big Brothers Big Sisters or the Boys and Girls Club, when you consider the great things Sublime does for both vegans and for animals by donating money and simply by existing :P

  2. Aprileona - I'm sure it is tough in Florida and I'm sure this is a great option, but having traveled so far and having experienced so many other restaurants, I have to say that I was disappointed as it isn't on par with other fine restaurants. That said, I do appreciate all that Nanci does. Thanks so much for your comment!

  3. Hi Angela,

    Thanks so much for this thoughtful and honest review. I'm also a vegan food blogger (, currently traveling across the country doing vegan restaurant reviews and I struggle with this exact issue as well. I 100% appreciate and support vegan establishments for all that they do, but at the same time, we're reviewing the food, not the mission. If it's not good, you have to be honest.

    My parents live in South Florida and I had high hopes for Sublime as well. I was disappointed...I expected a lot more since it has been touted as one of the top vegan restaurants in the country. I totally agree with your comment about the gardien patties and would add onto that the fact that they only use daiya for all cheese. I've been to plenty of casual vegan restaurants that make their own cheese sauces and "meat" in house (or at least prepare it in house), so I expect more from a place like Sublime.

    I'm in the middle of writing my Sublime review, and although we didn't order any of the same things, I'm glad I found this to at least confirm that my experience was not unique as it makes me feel better being honest about my opinions. Though I also got the same amuse-bouche, so I guess we had ONE thing in common ;) Anyways, thank you again!!!


    1. Mariana -- so nice to "meet" you! I just read your review and we are definitely on the same page. Thank you for your honesty as well. I know so many people who will not write honestly about vegan restaurants because they don't want to put them down, but if they are serving subpar food and just getting by, someone needs to call them out. And I'm happy to be the one to do so. :-)