Vegan drinking venues are nothing new. Within the past few years, gastropubs and breweries have been the new social “thing,” serving slightly outrageous yet equally delicious plant-based bar food with an impressive selection of local beers (on tap, of course). However, this culture has yet to truly permeate the wine world. Tara Punzone wanted to change this. This self-taught chef’s first concept, Pura Vita, is opening in West Hollywood next week. It is the first completely vegan wine bar and Italian restaurant in the U.S.
Punzone grew up in Brooklyn in an Italian American household. Her grandfather owned a classic New York market and sandwich shop, and she soon grew fond of her traditional southern Italian family meals. “Everyone in my family was a cook. Everything revolved around food,” she recalled. Punzone connected the dots between her plate and the animals fairly young; at the age of 10, she told her family she would no longer eat meat. Her family accepted her decision, but also said she had to get in the kitchen and learn how to cook. “That was the best culinary school anyone could ever hope for!” She noted.
Working alongside her family members, Punzone fell in love with cooking. She also dove into more research about vegetarianism and realized she could do more. At only 13, she went vegan. She didn’t let that stop her from cooking and consuming what she loved. Punzone said it was an enjoyable experience recreating her family’s traditional dishes without animal products.
“It was already my dream by that age, to have a restaurant of my own…a vegan Italian restaurant,” she said.
That dream is coming true, backed by a tremendous amount of hard work and dedication. Pura Vita makes everything in-house – from the sauces to the vegan cheeses. Punzone explained: “All of the ingredients are sourced from locally grown organic farms and Italian imports for specialty items. Everything is 100% vegan, non-GMO, organic and made from scratch. We are committed to clean, healthy, home-style comfort Italian food that is never processed or fried.”
The menu is reflective of Punzone’s southern Italian roots. Patrons will have their choice of antipasti, salads, and “of course” pasta. Punzone emphasized that the menu will have a gluten-free option for most dishes. “We want to make sure everyone can celebrate the pasta!” she said. Punzone is particularly excited to serve her Black Magic Lasagna, an expertly layered creation of besciamella, ricotta, spinach, mushrooms, mozzarella, topped with black truffle cream and pesto. And then, there’s dessert. Pura Vita hosted a booth at Eat Drink Vegan in May, and their tiramisu hooked future patrons, eagerly waiting for the restaurant to open.
In regards to wine, the selection is heavily based on Italian and California wines. All are vegan, sustainable, and sourced from organic or biodynamic farms.
It may be a wine bar, but Punzone dispels all pretension. “I want to create the same feeling all of my friends and family experience when they walk into my or my parents’ home for Sunday dinner. Its fun, generous, sometimes loud, and you always leave happy!”
Pura Vita is hosting its grand opening on September 7 and 8. All are welcome.
Image Credit: @themintyanne/Instagram