BY STEFANIE ELLIS
NOWHERE IN THE U.S. will you feel like you’re in a scene from “The Sound of Music” more than in the Bavarian-themed town of Leavenworth, Washington.
Snow-capped mountains are punctuated by a 360 panorama of trees. There is bratwurst, beer, a Nutcracker museum and German music emanating from strategically placed speakers. Yet just one street over from the gingerbread and pretzels lives a magical restaurant where vegetables are adorned in beet-laced Lederhosen. A place without potato dumplings or gravy, but with locally sourced, organic, vegetable-forward meals that will make your heart dance a Vienna waltz. This is Mana.
Mana, which means the power of the elemental forces of nature, is a fitting name. Though most people don’t come in expecting to be transformed by the forces of nature, husband and wife owners Amber Tande and Colin Patterson have countless stories of people being viscerally moved by vegetables.
Though not solely a vegetarian restaurant, Patterson’s ability to commune with vegetables is no joke. His 25 years of culinary experience have taught him the importance of balance, which was obvious in a masterful salad of smoked beets, cara cara oranges, pickled daikon and soft-boiled quail egg with Meyer lemon hempseed dressing and candied pumpkin seeds.
“I thought about all the components,” he says. “Smoky, sweet, sour-sweet, pickled-sweet and umami—right down to the black cardamom and cinnamon in the pickling brine. I’m listening to the ingredients. The food tells me what to do.”
Each bite complemented the next in an almost psychic way, requiring silence and closed eyes to truly translate the journey between mouth and brain. Meals like this are rare and precious, so when you have them, words seem inadequate to describe the experience. Take the roasted cauliflower chipotle soup with Kaffir lime coconut whip. To call it soup feels wrong. The complexity from the just-right amount of chipotle and rich creaminess—but no cream—from roasted cauliflower and vegetable stock was performance art in a bowl.
Tande’s B.S. in Holistic Health Psychology from Bastyr University and love of plant medicine helped her design the non-alcoholic elixirs paired with each course. The alluring blueberry-thyme-chaga sparkling elixir was pleasingly sweet and bursting with blueberry flavor, serving as a perfect counterpoint to the lip-puckering tartness of the rose-lime-hawthorn-pomegranate sparkling elixir—like a dry champagne—with whispers of rose at the back of the throat. Like Patterson, she also lets nature’s wisdom inform her creations. She believes “plants share their voice. They say, ‘I’d be willing to work with you.’”
Seeing the duo’s deep connection to nature makes it easy to understand why Mana fits in the wild beauty of Leavenworth. Though when they ran Sutra restaurant in Seattle, they never imagined such an expansive playground would one day be their backyard.
“We had a farm in Monroe, WA, that sourced the produce for Sutra,” says Tande. “And when the block Sutra was on was sold, we tried to figure out how to make it work on our farm, but Monroe is so spread out. We were going to be in the car all the time. We came to Leavenworth every week to visit because we loved the feel. We started looking at places. The building Mana is in was the first place we saw.”
“We’re not trying to turn numbers,” echoes Tande. “We’re trying to call in the right people. There’s an exchange of energy and care on multiple levels. For food people it may seem weird to talk about spirituality, but it’s really the seedling of anything we do. How is this contributing to life? If it’s not, forget it.”