After 22 years at It’s Only Natural (ION) Restaurant, its masterful head chef Mark Shadle sought new challenges, so he and his wife Ami opened G-Zen, a sort of Neo-ION, as half its menu is same as ION’s, but with new and more imaginative names. Rather than dwell on the politics of opening a vegan restaurant merely 25 miles from ION, instead let’s rejoice in the expanded choice for the vegan community of two stellar restaurants. What could be better than ION? Two ION’s!
Yet one cannot refrain from making comparisons. Many new dishes do distinguish it from ION, for instance one entree at G-Zen presently is all raw, with more to come. Decor and dinnerware here are more elegant and opulent than at hippie artsy ION. You can decide if one better suits your personality. I do prefer the “vibes” (yeah man, am a hippie) of ethnically-diverse and middle-class Middletown to that of New Haven’s Caucasian and affluent bedroom community Branford, and prefer the trip to Middletown on scenic and lightly traveled Route 9 rather than to Branford on bland and truck choked Interstate 95. Similarly, G-Zen’s street parking is far less predictable than at ION’s adjacent parking lot, and G-Zen’s steep entrance stairway presents a forbidding obstacle to cripples such as I. But the food at G-Zen is outstanding, and it is primarily for the food that one chooses any restaurant, even if to get there one must confront the traffic perils of I-95, and if to get out of there one must grovel on hands and knees. The food makes it all worth it, so what other accolades might I bestow upon the food? It is delicious, nutritious, wholesome (no white flour or white sugar here), mostly organic, beautifully presented, graciously hosted, and (except for calf milk offered as an option for creamer for coffee, for which the reason remains unexplained, but must be compelling) totally vegan. This may very well be vegan heaven!