It started with the olives bathed in herbs and warm oil. An enticing welcome. And a signpost for the enchanting meal to come.
So, it seems that vegetarian is the new thirty…or some variation on that theme. Like dogs became the accessory du jour a few years ago, being vegan/vegetarian, at least having a BFF who is, or even honoring meatless mondays is pretty much on trend. A welcome trend (as are dogs!) but sometimes the fare that supports the philosophy is less than amiable. There were a scant handful of decent vegetarian restaurants in NYC for many years. Candle Cafe, Blossom, Souen led the pack and when Dirt Candy came along, carnivores and herbivores alike experienced a paradigm shift. And now, with the advent of Superior Burger, Chloe and the coup de grace – Avant Garden, we have definitely left late night tv’s Ronco Vegematic in the dust. We’ve gone beyond dicing.
A shiny new jewel in the crown of restauranteur/bar owner and almost lifetime vegan, Ravi DeRossi, he also has the infamous Death & Co, lovely champagne and wine bar Riddling Widow, tiki bar Mother of Pearl, tequila bar Mayahuel, bitters bar Amor y Amargo and the fish focused restaurant Bergen Hill among others. He brought along his longtime and very notable executive chef Andrew D’Ambrosi, who has created an inventive and fabulous menu.
It’s glowy and romantic. An exemplary staff, spirited and kind, not so easy when navigating a lightly cramped space. Love sitting at the petrified wood bar on a cozy chair stool, watching the alchemy take place. You can preview the goods as you watch them being made, each dish looking tastier than the last, desperately trying not to keep adding to your order. It’s easy to linger here as dishes arrive one at a time, meant to be shared and savored. A few glasses of the lovely dolcetto, good conversation and of course the food – that congenial dining atmosphere becomes a brilliant evening. Our server Ryan and Jack, the chef in front us, were very friendly and we appreciated their direction.
The menu is in three sections, our first arrival was a Toast as the menu refers to them. The vegan term for bruschetta? There’s a bountiful selection making it hard to choose so I look forward to many return visits. Apparently the Tomato Jam IS the jam and voted Miss Congeniality by most patrons with its Pickled Peach, Tomato, Almond Ricotta & Basil. But we went for the toast coated with a smoky eggplant puree, dotted with calabrian chili, crushed black olives, nuggets of celery and the very perfect goose to the dish – pickled rings of shallots. Deep rich flavor balanced by that smokiness and heat on bread from Balthazar no less – and of course the snappy shallots. Ambrosial, autumnal, gratifying. And accompanied by that luscious Dolcetto – Marziano Ablona, Papa Celso 2013 from Piedmont – which we happily stuck with for the evening.
So, from hot and smoky to cold, creamy and sublime. Cold, the Second Section. Beautifully designed plates of imagination and whimsy. Cubed red beets, delicate wisps of mango, on a perfectly whipped cloud of avocado, crunchy bits of rice cracker, swirls of black sesame, tamari, tobanjan, a spicy bean paste & lime. Fantastic. Gorgeous pops of colorful swizzles and flecks. This is the Peter Max of the Cold section.
Then we shared three of the larger plates from the Hot column or aka, A Hug In A Bowl section. Started with a dazzlingly devised dish of King Oyster mushrooms, Maitake mushrooms, in a kind of Smoked Macadamia pesto with Crispy Leeks. Added snippets come from what’s in season at the market, we had the now very popular but still pleasing watermelon radishes. Definitely a contender for my favorite dish of the moment. Avant garde comfort.
Farro Risotto with Butternut Squash, Baked Apple, & Sage Pesto was warm, seductive, wonderful, the crispy sage a pleasure. Toasting some of the faro added an unexpected texture that was ideal.
And though I thought over indulging by adding the Spaghetti Pomodoro with capers, basil and bread crumbs seemed unnecessary in a non-Italian vegan eatery, our chef heard us discussing it and said – well, you won’t be disappointed. Right again. A delicious and homey dish – bread crumbs used in place of grated cheese was clever and the memorable right touch.
Only one dessert is offered each evening and changes when it does. Ours was a lovely warm bamboo rice pudding with mango and sorbet. The blanket of heat against the cold tart sorbet was excellent, a simple but sanguine finale.
Dining here is intimate, eclectic, inviting and it’s all in perfect harmony with nature being trumpeted on the plate and in the ambience. Plus, it’s just really fun.
130 east 7th street between Avenue A/1st street
Sunday-Thursday 5pm-1045pm / Friday-Saturday 5pm-1145pm