Vegetables have their turn in the spotlight on top city menus.
Cauliflower steak a la plancha with grilled garlic scapes, baby peas, spring herbs, and romesco sauce from Cafe Clover.
“More chefs are paying attention to vegetables and transforming them from the eternal wallflowers at the party to the shining star doing the hustle in the middle of the dance floor,” says Amanda Cohen, chef and owner of the influential Dirt Candy, an award-winning vegetable restaurant on the Lower East Side. Her reasoning? She and other chefs see how New York diners, even those who are not vegan or vegetarian, are more mindful of healthy and sustainable eating practices, and increasingly attuned to the tenets of Mediterranean, Ornish, and Flexitarian diets, in which veggies play a key role. Gotham recently took a survey of vegetable dishes not to miss this spring.
The Dish: Curd with garden peas and mint. What to Know: At Eleven Madison Park, where 70 percent of the menu items are vegetable-based, famed chef Daniel Humm raises them to four-star status, creating such memorable dishes as a luscious carrot tartare and butternut squash cannoli. Humm particularly likes to focus on a single vegetable and find new ways to bring out its tastes and textures. “There are more layers of flavors, more nuances in a single green pea than is possible to ever imagine,” he says of his latest vegetable dish, which takes a classic spring pea and mint combo and updates it with the curd pairing. 11 Madison Ave., 212-889-0905
The Dish: Red quinoa and asparagus spears with charred spring onions, candied walnuts, shaved radishes, snap peas, and dried strawberries in a dill vinaigrette. What to Know: “I like to create vegetable entrées that can stand alone if a fish or meat entrée is completely removed,” says chef Ryan Schmidtberger, who has recently overhauled the Bacchanal menu. For the quinoa and asparagus dish, he uses an Alto-Shaam Combi oven (“that costs as much as a car”) to dry vegetables at low temperatures for extra flavor. 146 Bowery, 646-355-1840
Whole crispy hen of the woods mushroom, Cloumage, and herbs from Upland.
The Dish: Whole crispy hen of the woods mushroom and maitake mushroom with Espelette pepper, cheese mix, Cloumage, lemon, sliced chives, smoked salt, and ground pepper. What to Know: “This dish is an example of how chefs are becoming more inventive with vegetables by contrasting textures,” says chef Justin Smillie, who also experiments with different cooking techniques to evolve a vegetable’s flavor. “We shallow-fry the mushroom petals to become crispy but steam the stems, which results in a creamy, contrasting texture.” To texturize the beets, he slow-cooks them in a vinegar and water bath at 180 degrees. 345 Park Ave. South, 212-686-1006
The Dish: Cauliflower steak a la plancha with grilled garlic scapes, baby peas, spring herbs, and romesco sauce. What to Know: Chef David Standridge utilizes the romesco sauce as a culinary passepartout “because the classic nut and red pepper-based sauce is easy to change up with seasonal ingredients.” In spring, he likes to incorporate fresh peas “for sweet variation.” 10 Downing St., 212-675- 4350
The Dish: Mint and tarragon fettuccine with yogurt saffron sauce and zucchini relish. What to Know: “Spiralizing zucchini and adding it [atop] the pasta noodles is a trick I learned from my time in the raw food world,” says Michelin-starred chef Amanda Cohen. “It adds a surprising bite to the pasta. And that’s what you always want to do with vegetables, surprise people.” She also likes to use yogurt sauces for pastas because it “makes them creamy but light.” 86 Allen St., 212-228-7732