Last week I had the opportunity to attend a summer vegan event at the James Beard Foundation– a nonprofit organization that aims to preserve America’s diverse culinary heritage and future. They invited Philadelphia-based vegan restaurant Horizons for the second time to host a dinner at the legendary Beard House in New York City. This was the first time in 23 years that the James Beard Foundation was recognizing vegan cuisine as just that, a cuisine. Definitely something to celebrate!
Hors d’oeuvres were being prepped as I walked in the kitchen and I couldn’t help but take my camera out. They were almost too beautiful to eat! My favorites included fritters of hearts of palm with pickled asparagus rémoulade and a bruschetta with tofu, pickled daikon and charred shishito peppers. Incredible! My non-vegan friend who came with me was in awe that no dairy was used in any of these recipes.
Grilled seitan and horseradish crèpes with braised butter lettuce also set the tone for the evening...
We were escorted to the dining room to be seated for what was to be the most incredible 5-course meal. An amuse of an silky asparagus soup came first. Salt-Roasted Golden Beet Carpaccio and Tartare then kicked off the meal with applewood-smoked tofu, avocado capers, pumpernickel and cucumber-dill cream that delightfully surprised my non-veg friend, once again, for a dairy cream! Paired with a Handley Gewurztraminer, the presentation was exquisite. The flavors, perfection.
Next, a shallow bowl of mustard croutons bursting with flavor and upland cress was filled with warm, savory Sunchoke and Horseradish Bisque. Paired nicely with a 2008 Pfaffenheim Pinot Blanc. Mouth-watering just thinking about it…
A third course of Glazed Nebrodini Mushroom with Seaweed Caramel, Chinese Broccoli Puree, Smoked Miso and Cucumber Sashimi. The Tozai Snow Maiden Junmai Nigori Sake boasted a light and airy composition and harmonized quite well with the earthy flavors of the mushrooms and miso. At this point I was trying not to finish each plate, as I knew there was more to come, but it was seeming to be impossible.
The fourth course, an entrée of Catalan Grilled Tofu, sent us into a tangy world of garlic salsa verde, dried olives and raw ratatouille. The gigantic bean puree and pioppini mushrooms that accompanied the protein had an exceptional taste and texture. I am not usually a fan of grilled tofu as a main component but this dish was hearty, flavorful and I could not get enough of the bean puree.
Save room for dessert? Not at all, but a vegan dessert is not something I ever pass up. The final course of Strawberry-Sorrel Bread Pudding with Saffron Ice Cream and Rhubarb Nectar might have stolen the show for me. It would have been easy, I imagine, for the complex flavors of the bread pudding to upstage the strawberries or overpower the bashful hints of saffron in terrible and unjust ways, and yet it did not. Instead, the delicate pudding served as a sponge of taste, soaking in each ingredient and delivering bite after bite of perfect synchronicity. I almost ate the leftovers at the table…along with the last drops of 2008 Rivetto Moscato d’Asti that was served as an accompaniment.
A memorable night at the Beard House and such an honor to be a part of something so relevant. James Beard himself would have been surprised and yet impressed to see an incredible vegan event hosted in his home.