an unexpected lavender panna cotta at mira sushi & izakaya
When I walked into Mira Sushi & Izakaya after work last night during happy hour, there were no empty seats in the bar up front. The dining room, which has Pop Art–lined brick walls and a sushi counter in the corner, was empty. It was just me and the sushi chefs as I took pictures of their lavender panna cotta from all angles, and talked to chef Brian Tsao about how it ended up on the menu.
He—in the manner of many wise chefs—wants to make his menu as inclusive as possible, and this means a ton of gluten-free options and clearly labeled vegan items that he is adamant about making "actual dishes" and not just substitutions. So many people come in with a medley of allergies and restrictions, so when thinking about a dessert that could work for as many of them as possible, he decided upon a panna cotta served with lemon gelee and a lavender-berry compote.
It took a lot of development, from starting with only soy milk ("disgusting") and the somewhat controversial seaweed-derived carageenan ("gummy, weird") to its current form, which is made from a blend of soy and coconut milks. There were six or seven versions before it was finalized, during which Tsao ate a lot of panna cotta and realized that what was missing from his vegan version was the minerality of milk. He found a vegan calcium supplement that gave him the texture he wanted. It still contains carageenan. I asked about agar, the usual go-to for vegans wanting this kind of texture, and he said it's just not his thing.
His judgement should be trusted, as the texture of this panna cotta is utterly creamy, without any graininess. Its bounce is perfect—when you take your spoon to it, a piece falls off naturally. Often, vegan desserts in this vein end up too stiff and you are just slicing it, consuming what amounts to tough Jell-O.
The restaurant's other desserts, including a s'more made with a green-tea brownie, sell better than the panna cotta, but this is the dessert Tsao personally recommends. It's easy to see why, as it's a rather ingenious piece of work by someone who didn't have to go through the effort.