[Editor's note: Mashriq closed permanently in August 2019]
It’s late afternoon, that lull between lunch and dinner when most restaurants close their doors. Mashriq, billing itself as café-restaurant-bar, remains open. At a table near the entryway, a pair of college students pore over textbooks. At the bar, the neighborhood ramen maker has made himself at home. Purist that he is, the ramen maker is not here for the food, only the drinks and the company. He’s even brought a bowl of his own ramen with him for sustenance. Mashriq’s owner, Suzuki-san, ribs him a bit about it but doesn’t really seem to mind.
This open-minded attitude is one of the things that makes Mashriq unique. The fare is 100% vegan, but people of any dietary denomination are welcome. Suzuki-san points out that much of what appeals to people about meat is its texture, flavor, and protein content. As Suzuki-san’s cooking demonstrates, vegan food needn’t lack any of that. In fact, Suzuki-san says some meat-lovers simply don’t believe it when he tells them that dishes like his falafel are, in fact, completely meatless.
As I sidle up to the bar, the cocktail menu catches my eye. Real cocktails at a vegan restaurant? Another surprise! I order the Gloom Chaser. With a name like that, I can’t resist. Is it a Halloween special? Suzuki-san chuckles. No, actually. His cocktail menu is shaped by his diners, not the seasons. He noticed that when things haven’t been going smoothly at work or home, people ask for a little something to chase the blues away. The Gloom Chaser is here to do just that.
For now, Mashriq is a bit of a one man show: Suzuki-san is not only the owner, but also the chef, bartender and server. He switches into chef mode to prepare me a Mashriq Plate. A charming and guileless host, Suzuki-san converses over the stove as he cooks. What kind of people frequent Mashriq? He says it draws a pretty diverse crowd, including more than its fair share of models, singers, and athletes. He attributes that to vegan food being so good for the body.
Suzuki-san soon found that a vegan diet helped him maintain the elite level of fitness expected of him
In fact, that’s what drew Suzuki-san himself to veganism. At age 15, Suzuki-san moved to California to pursue his dream of becoming a professional basketball player. It was there, during his time as a pro basketball player and later trainer, that he was introduced to veganism. He recalls about a third of his teammates being vegan. From time to time, they would get together and cook. Suzuki-san soon found that a vegan diet helped him maintain the elite level of fitness expected of him more effectively than a meat-based regimen did. Since retiring from professional basketball, has he stuck to a vegan lifestyle? For the most part, yes. He cooks vegan for himself and his family, but occasionally eats meat when he goes out with friends.
That California pedigree is reflected in the menu offerings. Savory dishes are mostly Middle Eastern fusion, and sweets are vegan renditions of Western classics. My Mashriq Plate is a mezze-like platter of falafel, chickpea-potato croquettes, greens, and rice, all drizzled with a magenta-hued beet dressing. It reminds me of the food I ate during my college years in Berkeley, only lighter and fresher-tasting. And for dessert? The lemon tart. Of all the dishes on the menu, this is the one Suzuki-san speaks about with the most pride because the lemons he uses for it are grown by his wife.
Mashriq opened only recently, in May of this year. It’s already gotten a fair amount of local press and is slated to be featured on an upcoming national TV program. The food may be vegan, but Mashriq’s appeal is much broader.
Mashriq Cafe and Bar (マシュリク カフェ＆バー)
Sendai, Aoba-ku Komatsushima 2 chome 3-1
Open: Tue-Sat 11-11:30PM, Sunday 11-6:30PM