Bday 2: The “Disconnect” Rant /
Avant Garden Review
It annoys me how NYC food culture vultures and foodie scenesters so often snub vegan food… especially when they really have no experience with it. Well, wait. That’s not necessarily true. They have no experience with it as cuisine genre. Those who think that “vegan” is a curse word, well they eat vegan food all the time! Probably with every meal. Fruit, vegetable, grain, nut, legume… vegan. No biggie.
Let’s be honest now, eating some animal’s flesh; fat; organs; boiled animal parts, bones, hoof… not weird? Drinking the breast milk of another species of animal who was artificially inseminated repeatedly? That’s not weird either? Taking her calf and keeping it in a small crate to limit its muscle development so its meat will be more tender for you to eat? That’s not weird? Just checking in on that rationale. Some react to the notion of a vegan diet with enthusiastic rejection. But those things are acceptable? The disconnect here is that ethical vegans make food choices based on prioritizing compassion for all living things, while most others don’t know or care about the hidden, painful start of their food preferences… so they see vegans as unnecessarily restrictive, uptight, picky, or… weird. But who has got their eyes open here?
Bringing it back to just food, the discerning vegan has just as much disdain for rubbery meat analogs, dry cake, and unprepped plant protein as your standard omnivore. That’s just bad food. Unfortunately that kind of vegan food is easy to find. And there are plenty of undiscerning vegans. Part of my blogging passion is to help share the distinguishing levels of vegan food here in New York and beyond. It’s a bit of a quest. And it’s why I try to push past my personal conflicts to criticize well-intended vegan eateries when their food is, er, lacking. Better food means a broader mainstream acceptance of vegan options and, perhaps, an easier transition for a new vegan, more vegans, less animals killed, etc.
I have issue with widespread generalizing of vegan food as just one way, as mainstream media (like Eater, whose ridiculously titled article inspired the above paragraphs) assumes. But they are just ill-informed and prejudiced. Omnivores have plenty of terrible food choices. There are distinguishing levels of quality for vegan food–just as not all omnivorious food can be equated to McDonalds and processed cheese products, all vegan food cannot be judged by its lowest form. Food, in general, is better when it’s cared for. That’s why Avant Garden, Ravi DeRossi’s new all-vegan restaurant, is so good.
Ravi DeRossi is a high end restaurateur who is touted by local and national media outlets like TimeOut, New York Times, GQ and Vogue. Executive Chef Andrew D’Ambrosi is another respected name, known in food culture circles in New York City. So really, I never heard of either of them until the opening an all-vegan restaurant in the East Village. My pal CandyPenny treated me for my birthday, pleased with a new, exciting high end option that did not require us to go uptown. We sat and perused the all-vegetable menu, selecting 4 shared plates–an ordering philosophy that reminded me of Vedge in Philadelphia and a dimly lit ambiance that brought back memories of Dirt Candy‘s old space. The “Toast” section contains a variety of crostini. The “Cold” are appetizers served cold. The “Hot” are larger plates served hot. Avant Garden’s menu lists each dish’s components but hints not to the preparation… or the transformation of each.
Our Toast: Peas, cucumber, green beans, with mint and whipped tofu dollops to break the monochrome. A beautiful start but high water-base of components made flavor very subtle, pronouncing (cold/wet) texture as dominant element. I would have appreciated dollops of a sharp nut cheese to awaken it. But talk about visual compensation, holding this to my mouth… it was like taking a bite out of a bright green bouquet.
Our next dish: A beet tartare for beginners and a stunning work of food art. Reader, you know I have a great love for the beet. So this was heaven: from the tiny Chioggia beet castle to the rice brittle. A beet tartare on the menu is a beet tartare in my mouth. (This one from San Francisco’s Sanctuary Bistro and this one from Los Angeles’s Madeleine Bistro come to mind…) And for this gorgeously delectable Cold plate, I have just one suggestion: more beet! Gold star for the salty black smears of tamari and tobanjan.
The first of our Hots: deep-fried Potato Cannelloni stuffed with pine nut ricotta, surrounded by eggplant in various forms on top of arugula pesto. I wanted a whole plate of these potato cannelloni. This was just a lone “cannellono,” but it was perfect. Once devoured, the eggplant was slightly less lovable. I think we were craving starch and a bit of acid somewhere to brighten it up. But… did I mention the deep-fried potato thing with nut cheese in it? They were like a vegan version of Turkish cigars. I never knew I needed those.
This gorgeous dish was the one I was admiring on various social media outlets. It was a wonderfully tender roasted cauliflower on a parsnip puree, topped with a sprinkling of little pickled rainbow cauliflower pieces, capers and sliced Concord grapes. And on the side, candy-like Concord grape dots. So tart and flavorful.
Ok, to dessert. The only offering: a pudding of sweet bamboo rice, diced mango and a scoop of Calamondin sorbet. Here is the strange part. This blend of citrus and mango and cream tastes just like the nostalgic cereal classic Froot Loops! And more so as the sorbet melts and blends into the creamy pudding. It’s like eating a sugary bowl of soggy Froot Loops, at that point when the milk has taken in all the sugar. Now, this is a glorious thing, albeit very, very sweet.
Welcome, Avant Garden, to New York’s East Village and your first review from a tenured vegan of about 20 years. I’ll see you again soon.