About once a quarter, Chef Scott Rains, an avid fisherman who makes what I believe to be the best foie gras and bone marrow in the city, turns his focus to vegetables, hosting a short series of vegan nights. They’re spectacular. Flavorful, creative, and well-priced at $40 per three-course meal, you’ll never miss the meat. Come check it out with me.
The three-course menu offered two choices for the appetizers, three for the entrees, and two for the desserts. My vegetarian Mrs. agreed that we’d order different dishes to cover as much of the menu as possible.
We began with a raw carrot and black bean hummus amuse brought for the table. Cool, quickly blanched and bisected four-inch carrots were crisp to the bite and accompanied by a chunky black bean hummus.
The beet tartare with radishes, micro beet tops and truffle oil was sweet from the finely diced beets, somewhat spicy from the thinly sliced radishes, and had a pleasant herbal note from the micro beet tops. This was a very visually stimulating way to start the meal.
The tomato basil soup with dill oil came with micro basil, which balanced the thick and bright tomato soup with its fresh herbal note. Abundant fresh herbs were a running theme throughout the meal, and I mentioned that to Chef Rains as a real high note for me. I’m a huge fan of the way fresh herbs enliven any dish.
My favorite dish of the night came during the entree course: roasted Arkansas cauliflower with a rough tomato romesco sauce, vegan cheese made from hazelnuts, and dressed with mustard seed caviar and pickled onions. I fell hard for this savory charred dish, finding it hard to share.
But I did share and turned to the farro.
I felt it needed a touch more salt, and doing so brought out the delicate sweetness of the grain, which had the expected toothsome chewiness and was carried well with a delicious handful of pea shoots, sweet peas, and delicate fava beans.
Our friends joined us for dinner and Brad ordered the grit cakes with smoked vegan mozzarella, root vegetables and tarragon vin. This was a hugely successful dish, and made me wish I had ordered it. Alas, no photo of this beautiful dish.
Chef Rains stopped by after our entrees were brought out, and we chatted about the menu. I pushed him hard to add the cauliflower dish to the regular menu. It’s that good. Scott said that he really liked the grit dish, which we all agreed came in just behind the cauliflower.
I will confess that I’m not much of a dessert man. By nature, I’m a savory not a sweet (just ask my Mrs.), and I suppose that without milk and butter and eggs it’s quite a challenge to make a really satisfying dessert. So, I found dessert to be somewhat of a mixed bag. The chocolate cake had a nice sponge to it, but lacked that deep richness that I sought. I really loved the chocolate coconut bar that accompanied it, and would have been well-satisfied with a jenga-esque stack of them, even better if the layers alternated with almond butter chocolate bars.
The peanut butter cheesecake with chocolate cookie crust and a banana whip cream was a standout. Cool and creamy, with a light peanut butter and banana flavor, it was light enough to eat all of it, but rich enough to cap off the meal with a satisfying note.
The cocktail service is strong, and service at Table 28 has markedly improved over the years, which I am very happy to see. We had wonderfully attentive, but not intrusive, service from Jeffrey, and will seek out his tables in the future.
Chef Rains is committed to trying a short series of vegan nights every quarter or so. We’re already looking forward to the next one, and will make this a standing reservation. And in the meantime, I’ll be back for the foie.