Kerstin Kühn: On Plant Food & Wine

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 28th August 2015
In her latest piece Los Angeles-based food writer Kerstin Kühn reviews Plant Food and Wine, a new upscale vegan restaurant that offers a different take on meatless dining. In Los Angeles vegan restaurants are a bit like fish and chip shops in London: there are a lot of them but really good ones are few and far between. They’re usually all about kale salad, raw juices and meat substitutes like tempeh, seitan or tofu. As a non-veggie, quite frankly, I’d rather eat the real thing so vegan dining hasn’t played a major part in my culinary outings here. Until now.Patio_ Photo credit EricaRaeBrown Plant Food and Wine is an innovative vegan restaurant, which recently opened in Venice Beach. It’s the new flagship from celebrity chef Matthew Kenney, a raw food guru who has been a James Beard Award nominee and runs a number of restaurants in the USA, as well as a raw food culinary academy with outlets in California, Florida and Thailand. The ethos at Plant Food and Wine is serving upscale vegan cuisine showcasing the best, seasonal produce from Southern California alongside a wine list of organic and biodynamic varietals. Located at the far end of Abbot Kinney Boulevard, the “coolest block in the USA” according to GQ Magazine, the restaurant embodies a sense of calm, although its sleek interior, with white walls, reclaimed stone and wooden floors, is a little bit sterile. But what the interior lacks in soul, the exterior makes up for in the form of an expansive patio. Complete with herb garden, olive trees and string lights it is just about one the loveliest outdoor dining spaces I’ve seen in LA. Interior_Photo Credit Geoff SouderOpen for brunch, lunch and dinner everyday, the kitchen at Plant Food and Wine is headed up by Scott Winegard, whose team creates a market-driven menu that flows with the seasons. While a nine-course tasting menu is available at $75 a head, the main menu is divided into snacks, cheese, sharing plates, main courses and desserts. That said, all of it lends itself to sharing, so when I dined at Plant Food and Wine with two girlfriends, we ordered a bunch of different dishes for the table. The first thing that came out from the snacks section was a mushroom pâté served with pickles, mustard and sour dough toast. Made from “any old mushrooms we have in the kitchen” according to Winegard, they’re blitzed in a high-speed blender along with walnuts and seasoning and then set with agar. The result is a firm yet smooth pâté with a seriously moreish earthy flavour. Right now at the height of the California summer, tomatoes are at their very best – lusciously sweet and juicy – and at Plant Food and Wine they are served in a panzanella salad. Heirloom tomatoes are tossed with bread, torn shiso and basil leaves and a vinaigrette with a hint of horseradish. It’s a dish so simple yet so divine with the tomatoes so full of life, every mouthful reminds you why living in California is a food lover’s dream.ZuchiniCacioePepe_Panzanella_Tight_PFW_hisres_EricaRaeBrown_7.30.15 The same goes for avocados, which nowhere else in the world taste as good as in California. For years I paid a fortune for the perfectly ripe avocados from Waitrose but they were never perfect and very rarely ripe. Here they’re both: soft, buttery, nutty and so tasty they deserve an entire dish dedicated to them. Like at Plant Food and Wine, where a whole avocado is dressed with lemon vinaigrette and green tahini and served with watermelon radish, sprouts and dehydrated black olives. Again the innovation lies in the simplicity of the dish, which really helps to underline the beauty of the main ingredient. Main courses were a little hit and miss. Grilled millet, cooked in a vegetable stock and served like a polenta cake with heirloom beans prepared in a smoky dashi, as well as summer squash, grilled baby bok choy and a roasted carrot tahini sauce divided the table. While I didn’t like the mouth feel of the millet and also thought it was a bit tasteless, my friend loved the texture and subtle umami of the dish. Instead the highlight of the meal for me was Cacio e Pepe, a vegan take on the Roman pasta dish, consisting of raw zucchini and spicy greens tossed in a sauce made from sunflower cream with lashings of black?pepper and lemon, and topped with sprouts and a black olive crumb. It’s light and fresh, peppery and creamy and nobody needs dairy when it is served like this. ZuchiniCacioePepe_Tight_PFW_hisres_EricaRaeBrown_7.30.15There is also a whole section of vegan cheeses at Plant Food and Wine, all made in-house. Cashew and macadamia nut cream is fermented with a probiotic for up to 48 hours and then flavoured with things like mixed herbs, white truffle or peppercorns and aged between 36 hours and three months depending on the variety. Cheese courses include cashew raclette, which is served hot in a small cast iron pan accompanied by bread?and a radish and parsley salad with lemon juice and zest. Desserts are lovely too. Chocolate is aerated in a whipped cream dispenser and then frozen ensuing in a light, airy texture. It comes with a hazelnut brittle and is served on top of a strawberry sauce with sliced fresh strawberries. It’s a dainty, delicate dessert perfect for the health-conscious ladies who lunch on Abbot Kinney. A more robust dessert, meanwhile, is Plant Food and Wine’s version of a banana split. Ice cream is made from coconut and cashew cream with flavours of superfoods like chocolate mocha, strawberry goji, and vanilla hemp, and instead of fresh banana it is served with a dehydrated banana tuile, chocolate and strawberry sauces, candied pecans and coconut whipped cream.ChashewRaclette_Overhead_Tight_PFW_hires_EricaRaeBrown_7.30.15 Plant Food and Wine has raised the bar of vegan restaurants in Los Angeles. It epitomises what meatless dining should be all about, with the emphasis not on fake meat substitutes but on fresh, seasonal vegetables that are so full of flavour and energy they don’t need any kind of protein to be complete. While I’ll never give up eating meat, this restaurant has opened my eyes to a different way of dining and it is no less delicious or satisfying. Kerstin_KuhnKerstin Kühn is a freelance food and travel writer, specialising in restaurant and chef stories. The former restaurant editor of Caterer and Hotelkeeper, she relocated from London to Los Angeles in 2013, where she lives on the city’s trendy East Side. With a vast network of chefs from around the world, Kerstin has profiled the likes of Michel Roux, Heston Blumenthal, Thomas Keller, Daniel Boulud, the Roca brothers and Massimo Bottura. She is a regular contributor to the World’s 50 Best Restaurants, FOUR Magazine, M&C Report and Spinney’s Food, and also writes her own blog, La Goulue. You can follow Kerstin on Twitter @LaGoulue_ >>>Read more of Kerstin's blogs here.

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 28th August 2015

Kerstin Kühn: On Plant Food & Wine