Veggie Heavens

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

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.Photo: Danny Kim

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.

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. Photo: Danny Kim

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.Photo: Danny Kim

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).

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.

ADOUR: Seasonal vegetables cookpot. Photo: Danny Kim

Adour Alain Ducasse
2 E. 55th St., nr. Fifth Ave.; 212-710-2277
To stay on top of the vegivore trend, Alain Ducasse has not only launched a sumptuous $85 tasting menu of vegetables—he’s commissioned an oven-to-table porcelain vessel designed specifically for cooking and serving them. Amid much fanfare, Ducasse has introduced a different Cookpot at each of his restaurants around the world, every one showcasing local seasonal ingredients. New York, as it happens, has two: the elegant arrangement of figs and wild mushrooms swaddled in fig leaves on the tasting menu, and the $21 Seasonal Vegetables Cookpot, an earthy, fragrant, visually striking composition of butternut squash, Romanesco broccoli, potatoes, celery root, tomatoes, and mushrooms—the essence of fall in a bowl. It comes with a farmer’s-cheese crostino on the side, and is best paired, according to the sommelier, with a $55 bottle of 2007 Dobbes Family Estate “Vanjohn Vineyard” Pinot Gris.

86 E. 7th St., nr. First Ave. no phone
It’s hard to find good food at a coffee bar, never mind a decent salad. But that’s the modus operandi at this cheerful caffeine kiosk, whose chef-partner Elizabeth Quijada forages the Greenmarket for her lunchtime prix fixe ($15 for all three items, $6 apiece). Somehow, in quarters smaller than a Starbucks display case, she grills slender olive-oil-slicked Sullivan St Bakery stecca loaves until light and crisp, and fills them with offbeat combinations like sautéed beet greens, cherry tomatoes, and provolone, or oven-fried green tomatoes with fresh mozzarella and radicchio. Her salads stand out for their vibrant flavors and artful pairings: green beans with sweet slivers of roasted white carrots; chioggia beets with marinated cherry tomatoes, rosemary, and thyme; celery root with Parmesan and toasted pine nuts in lemon vinaigrette. “We’d never call ourselves vegetarian,” says partner Jamie McCormick—just a place that specializes in hyperseasonal, artfully crafted vegetable fare. (And, of course, coffee.)

Blue Hill
75 Washington Pl., nr. Sixth Ave.; 212-539-1776
Granted, Blue Hill has a vegivore advantage. It’s not every urban restaurant that can claim an association with Stone Barns, the Rockefeller estate turned working farm. But beyond its providential sourcing, Dan Barber’s locavore flagship offers its diners a whimsical take on vegetables. Take the amuses: wafer-thin kale chips and a seasonal “burger,” currently tomato soffritto and ricotta slipped into a warm almond financier. (Beet burgers are next on deck.) An appetizer of braised and roasted fennel is garnished with homemade pancetta in a pork-reduction “charcuterie” sauce. The “creamy broccoli rabe” side dish is, in fact, utterly creamless, enriched instead with a flavorful pea stew. And Jerusalem artichokes are roasted in chicken sauce—not, as far as we know, in obeisance to the meat-as-a-condiment vegivore tenet, but, as a waiter confides, “because we like to cheat.”

The Spotted Pig
314 W. 11th St., at Greenwich St.; 212-620-0393
With all those Roquefort burgers and pig’s feet flying out of the kitchen, vegetables aren’t the first thing that springs to mind when you think of April Bloomfield’s Spotted Pig. But they might as well be. Roasted sunchokes mingled with creamy goat cheese. Meltingly soft pumpkin tossed with arugula, sharp Pecorino, and toasted pine nuts. Beets lavished with crème fraîche and smoked trout. These so-called salads aren’t exactly diet fare (thankfully). And no one does deceptively simple side dishes like roasted carrots, bubble and squeak, and buttery champ better than Bloomfield.

SALTIE: Romaine dinghy.Photo: Danny Kim

378 Metropolitan Ave., nr. Havemeyer St., Williamsburg; 718-387-4777
Unconventional sandwiches are the raison d’être at this streamlined lunch spot, where the bread is house-baked, the herbage is abundant, and the daily soup and salad specials make excellent use of seasonal produce. Why no one had ever thought before to cram beets, radishes, a hard-boiled egg, some butternut squash, feta, black olives, capers, pickled onions, parsley, and spicy aïoli on chewy focaccia and call it a Scuttlebutt, we don’t know. But we’re glad they did. And who knew that a Romaine Dinghy, consisting primarily of lettuce piled as high as a serving of Katz’s pastrami and slathered with gobs of homemade mayo, could be as delicious and satisfying as a BLT?

124 Meserole Ave., nr. Leonard St., Greenpoint; 718-389-8083
There are chefs whose motto is “local whenever possible.” There are chefs who specialize in “farm-to-table” cuisine. There are chefs who are “market-driven.” And then there is Jordan Colón, as fervent a locavore as anyone who ever banned sugar from the premises and substituted local butternut-squash oil for the extra-virgin-olive variety. Colón, in short, is locavore to the hilt, and vegivore all the way. Nothing at his restaurant comes from farther afield than Maine, where he gets his salt. The space is spartan, to say the least, the chalkboard cuisine—steamed chard with red beans and polenta, cabbage dumplings, fried spelt with daikon radish and beets—beyond stripped-down. Colón lets his vegetables speak for themselves. You could say it’s barely cooking; Colón would consider that a great compliment.

Frankies Spuntino
17 Clinton St., nr. E. Houston St.; 212-253-2303;
457 Court St., nr. Luquer St., Carroll Gardens; 718-403-0033

It’s tough being the city’s most celebrated meatball-makers. Your other kitchen talents, however considerable, tend to get overshadowed. The Franks, Falcinelli and Castronovo, are both veteran vegivores, prone to singing the praises of lacto-fermented vegetables and homegrown avocadoes. Not coincidentally, their summer salad of perfectly ripe heirloom tomatoes, avocado, and red onions is a thing of simple beauty—or, as Falcinelli puts it, “like gazpacho in your mouth.” But their vegivorism extends year-round to refreshing combinations like fennel, celery root, and parsley; escarole, walnuts, and Pecorino; and sardines with puntarelle and blood oranges, all perfectly balanced and zingily dressed. (The fact that they import their own olive oil, and apply it liberally to almost everything, certainly doesn’t hurt.) And you won’t find delights like shaved raw Brussels sprouts with lemon and Castelrosso cheese on your run-of-the-mill antipasto bar.

See Also:
Are Veggies the New Meat?
How a Vegivore
Meal Compares

Six Veggie Staples
Quiz: Are You a Vegivore?

Veggie Heavens