By Julie Lawrence Special to Published Feb 14, 2008 at 11:12 AM

Last night in Brookfield, Robin Kasch softly opened Café Manna, her new 100 percent vegetarian restaurant at 3815 N. Brookfield Rd.

The restaurant is on the small side and not all the decor is finished, but head Chef Jason Stevens was fully prepared for the crowds that showed up last night.

We sat down to a complimentary starter: cashew coconut hummus ($5.75), which was served with an assortment of fresh olive-stuffed breads. The hummus was soft, light and airy -- a refreshing first course.

For an appetizer, we ordered the wild mushroom and goat cheese crostini ($8.50). Six toast points came smothered in a layer of melted chevre, and piled with wild mushroom duxelle. They were delicious.

For the main course, I ordered the sesame-encrusted tofu with asparagus and sun dried tomato risotto ($14.75). The tofu was well flavored, although I wanted thicker slices. The thin pieces were beautifully fanned around a mound of some of the most robust risotto I've ever tasted. The sun dried tomatoes popped with flavor and the saffron hit the spot.

My guest ordered the Middle Eastern vegetable stew ($13.25), which was a decent-sized helping but didn't nearly fill up the enormous serving bowl. The stew was hearty with garbanzo beans, potatoes, root vegetables and spinach in a turmeric broth. This entrée came with more of the olive bread.

We had no room left for dessert, but couldn't help noticing how tempting the tapioca pudding looked when everyone around us ordered it. It was plated with fresh fruit and cookies.

The presentation at Café Manna is exquisite. The menu, truly a vegetarian's paradise, made for some difficult dinning decisions. The restaurant officially opens at 11 a.m. Monday, Feb. 18.

Julie Lawrence Special to staff writer Julie Lawrence grew up in Wauwatosa and has lived her whole life in the Milwaukee area.

As any “word nerd” can attest, you never know when inspiration will strike, so from a very early age Julie has rarely been seen sans pen and little notebook. At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee it seemed only natural that she major in journalism. When offered her an avenue to combine her writing and the city she knows and loves in late 2004, she knew it was meant to be. Around the office, she answers to a plethora of nicknames, including “Lar,” (short for “Larry,” which is short for “Lawrence”) as well as the mysteriously-sourced “Bill Murray.”