One month after moving to Los Angeles, New York Magazine cruelly published an entire issue dedicated to the future of vegetables. Anchored with the article Vegetables Are the New Meat, the magazine declared, “At serious restaurants all over town, carrots, peas, and the like are no longer just the supporting cast – they’re the stars. Move over locavores, here come the vegivores.” Fortunately, I’d already booked my friend’s sofa for a return flight back East!
After thoroughly reading New York Mag’s “The Vegetable Movement’s Must-Visit Restaurants,” I gathered a party of 4 to dine at Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s ABC Kitchen— quite possibly “the vegivore restaurant of the year”! Apparently everyone else had the same idea. I had to pull strings to secure a 8:00pm Saturday night reservation with just a few days notice… not that I actually know important people, but I do know their personal assistants!
There was no question that the Roasted Kabocha Squash Toast with fresh ricotta and apple cider vinegar ($10) would be the very first dish I ordered. According to all the press outlets that matter, it’s a top vegivore dish at ABC. Was it life changing?! Well, no… but imagine silky kabocha slivers lying in a bed of ricotta and crackling whole grain bread with a sprinkle of rooftop basil leaves. It may not change your life, but it will give you a solid 10 minute foodie high.
The tempura fried kabocha rings –because one can never have too much winter squash–appeared next, flecked with ribbons of aged goat cheese. The Crispy Delicata Squash with maple syrup and grated goat cheese ($13) was a surprise favorite. Admittedly, I accidently ordered it, thinking it was the roasted kabocha squash dish championed by the critics.
Without consulting me, my dear Dani ordered the Roasted Portabellos with Celery Leaves ($9). I might have let her order it, but she often forgets that I hate mushrooms. Since they’re a favorite of her’s and her vegetarian fiancé, she frequently orders them by default as a “vegetarian friendly” dish. I understand that some people can’t conceive of a vegetarian disliking mushrooms… just like I can’t conceive of people not loving rainbows and puppies and vegan cashew cheese. But since these vegetables are reportedly at their transcendental pinnacle, I put on a brave face and forced a slice of my fungal nemesis through pursed lips. Then I did it again… because, by golly, this was a delicious mushroom! It lacks the pungent flavor of soil, enticing eaters with a mild musk–its collar of spore releasing gills adorned with a confetti of celery leaves.
As a vegetarian, the problem with restaurant pasta is that I’ve eaten it every which way. It takes a genuinely made-with-love pasta dish to impress me. ABC’s academic rendition of Housemade Ricotta Ravioli with sautéed field greens, olive oil and lemon ($22) does nothing particularly wrong, but lacks refinement and attention to detail. The greens were over salted, masking its gentle leafy breath, and the lemon juice tasted muddled by a warm man hand. Although this was the most expensive dish we ordered, I would have been happier without it.
Just like pasta, pizza is another entrée that every chef seems to believe they are inherently good at. But in New York’s olive oil saturated pizza scene, mediocrity cannot be tolerated. So while the the charred, fennel-seasoned greens on the Spinach, Goat Cheese and Herbs Pizza ($14) taste delicious, the pizza amounted to a wet cheesy pool nestled in a gawky crust—sadly, just another non-pizza-chef pizza.
The same is true of the Mushroom, Parmesan, Oregano and Farm Egg Pizza ($17). Ultra fresh sautéed morels cannot disguise the blandness of this pie.
I love mashed potatoes. L O V E! And there is nothing not to love about ABC’s Mashed Potatoes with sea salt ($5)—even the hand crafted bowl is adorable.
My seafood loving Beau laments that I can’t share an occasional bisque with him–or perhaps he’s happy my wondering spoon stays out of his bowl. Nonetheless, the dairy-free Cauliflower Soup with Rye Croutons and Rupert Cheese ($11) may be the solution. This thick creamy soup came with high accolades from my dinner date, Jess, so we ordered two bowls for the table. It’s unfair to say how ambivalent I felt about this dish since, for some bizarre reason, it was served at the end of the meal. With our bellies already beyond full, eating the soup was like force feeding a sleeping kitten- it wants to eat… but… can’t…
The thought of ordering a dessert at this point seemed absolutely revolting, so I left the choice up to Dani. She selected Malted Milk Chocolate Ice Cream ($6) and Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Buttercream ($8). Though I protested, I ate my fair share of both! The ice cream was as thick as concrete with a hint of ice crystals. Beneath the dense chocolate flavor, I could hardly detect any malt. Then again, I like to eat malt powder straight out of the jar, so my taste might be a bit skewed. The moist carrot cake, meanwhile, clung to our forks, as the creamy frosting beckoned us back for more. Although ABC’s fabled dessert—the salted caramel-peanut ice cream and candied popcorn sundae–wasn’t one the menu this night, the crunch of candied pepita on our cake plate was equally gratifying. (Besides, the sundae is a straight-up rip off of Dirt Candy’s salted caramel corn popcorn pudding).
Located on the ground floor of ABC Carpet&Home, the dining room is decked out like a lo-fi luxe Hampton summer house. Flush with ABC advertising, food is served in one-of-a-kind porcelain dinnerware designed by Jan Burtz, mixed with grandmother-prized vintage plates and flatware. Diners are seated in Steelwood chairs ($495) and the walls are covered with photography by Elena Lykir ($2,000-ish – $3,600-ish). The rustic decor is balanced with (the knowledge of) a hipster rooftop garden where the kitchen’s herbs and microgreens are grown.
Despite the big ticket atmosphere, the approach to food is similar to other locavore restaurants like Eat. But here, high prices translate into perfectly executed haute flavor experiments. Young chef Dan Kluger (from the tutelage of Danny Meyer) provides a thrilling journey for those of us who’ve been eating vegetables for years—and can take on self-proclaimed carnivores too! Think of ABC as a sustainable farm-to-table restaurant for “everyone else.” – or as Sam Sifton put it, “responsible hedonism.”
35 E 18th St
New York, NY 10003