As I’d mentioned before, Chef David Santos was hosting an all-vegetarian, five-course dinner at City Grit called “Veggie Tales” (no, it had nothing to do with that VeggieTales). The dinner was on March 30th, on the “borderline” between winter and spring, and was designed to showcase the flavors of those seasons. All in all, I was very happy with the dinner and hope Chef Santos makes these a regular part of his rotation.
The dinner started with a selection of pickled turnips. As Chef Santos explained a few minutes later, he’s a big fan of pickles, so he incorporated them into almost every course. There were three types of turnips: black pepper with honey, curry, and kimchi. I like the first two, but wasn’t a fan of the kimchi; I found it too acidic. The curry was good, but had only a very light curry flavor; I thought it could have been more pronounced. The black pepper with honey was probably my favorite.
The first course was an “artichoke carpaccio”. The artichokes were pureed, set in agar, and then sliced thinly; that’s what you see at the bottom of the dish. This was topped with artichokes, fava beans and Parmesan. The dish was vibrant and had a “welcome to spring!” quality about it. The”carpaccio” was very creamy. The artichoke flavor didn’t come through quite as much as I had expected, though the flavor was enhanced by the fava beans and artichoke pieces.
This was followed by a delicious chilled carrot soup. What you see above is the “before” picture — an assortment of vegetables (and ginger flan) were arranged in the bowl, and the soup was poured in. Chef Santos said this course was designed to avoid “palate fatigue”: the experience of eating a dish where every bite tastes exactly the same. The interplay of the soup, the ginger, and the vegetables was supposed to be the opposite, designed so that every bite would be different. The soup was successful in that regard. I particularly liked the fresh peas, which added a nice crispness that contrasted with the creamy soup. My one quibble is that the soup was very rich and buttery. I would have preferred it a little lighter, and more “carrot-y”.
The creaminess carried over into the next course, an asparagus risotto. The risotto was in a sort of broth and felt more like a soup than a risotto (not that I minded!). The asparagus was quite fresh and came through in almost every bite.
The fourth course was a mushroom and bean “cassoulet”. The dish featured spring and winter beans with spring and winter mushrooms, topped with a poached egg and served with a couple of pieces of crostini. This was a really interesting dish. I liked the savory flavors and the mushrooms, and the contrast in texture between the mushrooms and the beans. The crostini was a fantastic idea; I loved being able to spoon a bit of the beans and mushrooms onto the toast with a bit of egg. The herbs were a big plus and kept the dish lively. I was initially skeptical of the egg, but it actually went quite well with the dish.
Dessert was a take on a pineapple upside down cake. This was probably my #2 dish on the night, though the “cassoulet” is up there too. The cake was made with polenta, so it was much more dense, but I liked the almost-gritty, cornmeal texture. It was a nice ending to the night.
Overall, the dinner was great. I’m not going to give it a star rating since it’s more of a “one of a kind” event (though I hope there will be more such dinners in the future!). It certainly competes with the meals I’ve had at some of the top restaurants in the city. My one critique is that the main courses all had a rich/creamy/buttery profile and in the end, the dinner came off as a bit heavy. I would have liked a little more contrast between the courses, even though each individual course was very good on its own (and if it had been the only such course, this wouldn’t be a point I’d be raising).
A couple of other notes: the event space, City Grit, was really neat. It’s an old schoolhouse, and although it’s been converted into a “culinary salon”, a lot of the old elements remain, including exposed beams, chalkboards, etc. Among other things, this means that the bathroom is down a hallway, and the facilities are, well, child-sized. And the bathroom is shared by the people at the adult-learning classes next door. Oh, and if you’re going to attend an event here, note that most of the tables are large tables of ten, so you’ll probably make some new friends. Only in New York!
Points, also, to the wine selection. Bottles were reasonably priced (about $30-50), and they were selected to complement the meal. The wines were crisp and fresh and went will with the vegetables that took center stage at the dinner.
Overall, though, this was a great dinner. I’m glad Chef Santos is doing events like this, and I’m glad City Grit hosted — it was a very good idea all around, and it was executed very well to match.