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Veggie Heavens

Where to partake of the new plant-minded dining.

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ABC KITCHEN: Roasted kabocha squash toast, fresh ricotta, and apple cider vinegar.   

ABC Kitchen
35 E. 18th St., nr. Broadway 212-475-5829
Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s latest just might be the vegivore restaurant of the year: far from vegetarian, but boasting enough irresistible starters, salads, and sides to make it possible—even enticing—to eat that way. In the summer, expect an onslaught of heirloom tomatoes and an elegant snap-pea salad dressed in Champagne vinaigrette. Fall is squash season, with the current showstopper being the deep-fried, delicately battered delicata rings, showered with sharp grated goat cheese, seasoned with chile flakes and lemon zest, and drizzled with maple syrup. Almost as impressive is an oiled and grilled “toast” slicked with a thin layer of ricotta, then topped with a soft spread of kabocha squash, its flavor deepened and rounded out with apple-cider vinegar. Squash shows up in two more permutations, but the true vegivore will want to save room for chef Dan Kluger’s signature dish: a rich, assertively seasoned assemblage of sweet roasted carrots, creamy avocado, toasted seeds, and tangy sour cream that’s a salad in name only.


DIRT CANDY: Buttermilk-battered cauliflower and waffles.  

Dirt Candy
430 E. 9th St., nr. Ave. A 212-228-7732
There’s nothing shy about Amanda Cohen’s approach to vegetables—or, as she calls them, “dirt candy.” Even the names of the dishes capture her characteristic exuberance: Carrot! is Cohen’s impish answer to Momofuku’s pork buns, three soft, spongy pockets tinted varying shades of carotenoid orange and yellow and stuffed with brassy barbecued roots; carrot-tahini halvah adds a nutty crunch to a piquant side salad of ginger and cucumber. And Cauliflower! is a brilliant visual riff on chicken and waffles, with buttermilk-battered florets and a pool of horseradish cream. Consider it Kentucky-fried cauliflower. Note: Cohen, in true vegivore fashion, calls Dirt Candy a vegetable restaurant, not a vegetarian one, though meat is never served.

Dovetail
103 W. 77th St., nr. Columbus Ave. 212-362-3800
There may be no better vegivore experience in town than Dovetail’s Monday-night-only vegetable spectacular. If you’ve ever wondered how sous-vide turnip seviche would taste, or salt-baked fennel with tuna mayonnaise, or maybe a barbecued parsnip rib, this is the place to find out. Chef John Fraser is a veteran of Thomas Keller’s French Laundry kitchen, so he’s no stranger to painstakingly produced, exquisitely plated, mind-blowingly delicious vegetable tasting menus. Unlike French Laundry or Per Se, though, Fraser offers two veg-themed menus, one vegetarian and one “vegetable-focused,” which uses meat or fish as a flavor booster to great effect. It’s $42 for three courses, from either section, plus dessert. The number of dishes to choose from (nine from each category) is impressive; Fraser’s way with roots, leaves, fungi, and all things cruciferous, even more so.


KAJITSU: "Fallen Vegetable Leaves" with baked sweet potato and steamed awa-fu with assorted autumn mushrooms.   

Kajitsu
414 E. 9th St., nr. First Ave. 212-228-4873
There are many components to the ritual of Shojin cuisine, an outgrowth of Japan’s Zen Buddhist monasteries and the forerunner of kaiseki, the seasonal multicourse meal. There is the tranquil atmosphere; the use of traditional antique dishware, often patched and preserved for centuries; and, not insignificantly, the food—completely vegetarian and arranged in carefully wrought compositions that reflect and celebrate nature. Such a meal unfolds in this soothingly monochromatic subterranean spot at a contemplative pace over eight courses. From a seat at the dining counter, you can observe the studied concentration of chef Masato Nishihara as he garnishes morsels of persimmon and kabu turnip with sesame cream and tonburi (the seed of a shrub, called “land caviar”), or graciously presents bowls of housemade soba, or arranges such lyrical compositions as Fallen Vegetable Leaves With Baked Sweet Potato—all part of his $70 menu, which changes every month.


EATALY: Acorn squash with black lentils, cipollini onions, and aged balsamic.  

Le Verdure
200 Fifth Ave., at 23rd St. 212-229-2560
At Eataly’s “vegetable restaurant,” seasonal produce is served raw, fried, grilled, and roasted. It’s turned into salad and soup, mounded on bruschette, and blitzed with bread crumbs. There is nothing ascetic about a cauliflower-and-cardoon gratinate, as rich as the creamiest macaroni and cheese, served with a lemony tangle of radicchio and frisée. (For 50 bucks extra, they’ll shower it with white truffle.) Sunchoke carpaccio is dressed with an earthy truffle vinaigrette, and three wedges of sweet roasted acorn squash anchor a surprisingly satisfying plate of black lentils and cipollini. Fun fact: Four years ago, chef Elizabeth Chapman Benno (wife of Lincoln’s Jonathan) was curing salumi at Italian Wine Merchants. Today she’s scooping spaghetti squash. Is Le Verdure Mario Batali’s gift to vegivores, or some kind or divine porcine justice?

Per Se
10 Columbus Circle, at 59th St.; 212-823-9335
Think of the nine-course Tasting of Vegetables as the alternate universe of the Per Se prix fixe—instead of foie gras and caviar, you’re plied with plant matter that’s been refined almost into unrecognizability. Gnarly sunchoke is somehow coaxed into a smooth bavarois cube with a compressed-cucumber lid. The essence of red pepper is captured inside a delicate croustillant tube. Swiss-chard-and-brioche stuffing is nestled inside a chard rib. Each plate is an exercise in artful presentation and meticulous technique, an abstract still life of perky microgreens and dehydrated chips and apples sculpted into grapes—all in dainty enough portions to leave plenty of room for pasta, cheese, and what seems like nineteen courses of dessert. Thomas Keller has always been an equal-opportunity chef, treating vegetables with the same reverence as everything else that passes through his supercharged kitchens, and charging as much for them ($275, stellar service included).

Franny’s
295 Flatbush Ave., nr. Prospect Pl., Prospect Heights; 718-230-0221
Brooklyn’s preeminent locavore pizzeria also traffics in some of the best vegetable preparations in town, with a menu that changes daily and lists the source of every lovingly picked pumpkin and plum tomato. In the summer, we’ll make a special trip for the flowering broccoli pizza, but even in brisk November the choices abound. Crostini might be topped with chestnuts or sunchokes. Pastas are mingled with mustard greens or cauliflower. Pumpkin croquettes are blitzed with an extra-fine dusting of grated Parmigiano for that ideal contrast of sweet and salty. And if you thought you didn’t like crucifera like cauliflower and Brussels sprouts, you haven’t had them roasted to a caramelized turn in the wood-burning oven, then blasted with brash, aggressive flavors like garlic and chiles or pickles, olives, and anchovies.


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