Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Where to Eat: The All-New, All-Vegan Spring Menu @ Crossroads

The Eats: A high-end vegan restaurant, on a trendy section of Melrose Ave.

The Location: Mid-City

The Vibes: Upscale, intimate, exclusive

Good for: Alone, dates, small groups

When-To-Go: Brunch and dinner

The $ Factor: $6 - $22 per appetizer, salad, entrée, etc.

The Names behind the scenes: Chef/Co-Owner Tal Ronnen, Executive Chef Scot Jones

The 4-1-1: Not only are all of the foods vegan, the libations are too; Crossroads has an all plant-based bar

Parking Situation: Valet parking and metered parking on adjacent streets

I’ll Be Back…: To try the “crab cakes,” next time!

Throughout the years, I’ve had my fair share of (albeit brief) love affairs with vegetarianism/veganism. There was that one time I gave up all meat for a month…until I started dreaming about BBQ ribs. Then there was that other time I stuck to a two-week, raw vegan meal plan, which left me feeling very energized and clear-minded. 

The truth is, I’m a huge enthusiast for eating less meats and more fruits and veggies, so that’s why when I was invited to experience the all-new, all-vegan spring menu at Crossroads, I jumped at the opportunity. I was excited/curious to see what Chef/Co-Owner Tal Ronnen — who’s prepared vegan meals for Oprah, Ellen DeGeneres and Ariana Huffington — had conjured up for this season. 

The new spring menu comprises dishes that are completely new, including items from Ronnen’s latest book, fittingly named Crossroads. It also features a few staple dishes that have been around since the restaurant’s opening, in 2013.

There are dozens of dishes made with ingredients you’d assume to be vegan — like nuts, veggies and beans. But what’s most mind-blowing is how Chef Ronnen has managed to invent plant-based alternatives for traditionally non-vegan dishes — such as cheeses, ice cream and even salmon (more on that later!).

Here’s a look at some of the highlights from the nine dishes I sampled during this delightful four course dinner.

The Spring Asparagus Pizza with Truffles 

A medley of grilled asparagus, kale and grilled garlic give this pizza a pleasantly crunchy texture. Pair that with the bold flavor of a creamy truffle sauce, and it was so flavorful, that I completely forgot I was eating pizza without cheese. Great to share or eat as a main course.

The Spring Chop Salad

Out of the two salads we tried, the Spring Chop Salad was my favorite, even more so than the signature Kale Caesar, which has been on the menu since Crossroads’ launch. The Spring Chop Salad won me over for its inventiveness, pairing sugar snap peas and greens with a subtly sweet whole grain mustard vinaigrette. The salad has an amazing earthy taste. It’s also in the Crossroads cookbook, should anyone want to prepare this salad at home. 

The Charred Ricotta with an Apricot Glaze

This cheesy appetizer is an example of how Crossroads can make plant-based foods seem like they’re the real deal. Using the vegan cheese from his own cheese line, “Kite Hill,” Chef Ronnen is spot on with the characteristics of regular ricotta — right down to the consistency, texture and taste. The ricotta in this appetizer spreads easily and magnificently on the accompanying crostini and the sweet dried fruits. It literally melted in my mouth. Also, it's slightly charred, thanks to a quick stint in the pizza oven. 

The Oven Roasted Truffled Potatoes

New to the menu, this Small Hot Plate features thinly sliced potato squares stacked neatly in a row and dusted with sprinkles of Parmesan “cheese.” The potato is soft in the middle and crispy on the outside. The edges were a little too crunchy for my liking, but the potato itself was seasoned very well and flavorful. 

The Balsamic Oven Roasted Mushrooms 

Another new Small Hot Plate, with crimini and shiitake mushrooms doused in a balsamic glaze, with shallots, fresh spring herbs and pine nuts. It’s so hearty and filling, that it can be great as a side, or even as a main course. 

The Tortellini with Heirloom Carrot Lox and Kelp Caviar 

By far, this dish was one of the most memorable of the night. Large, ring-shaped pasta are filled with velvety almond cheese, spinach cream and oven-dried tomatoes. But the best part: heirloom carrots have been transformed into “salmon.” The taste, the smell, the texture and the flavors — all will leave you convinced you’re eating fish! 

A trio of desserts 

We sampled the New York style cheesecake, made with Ronnen’s Kite Hill cheese and topped with Harry's berries, a chocolate bread pudding with vanilla bean creme anglaise and my favorite, the hot fudge sundae. The ice cream in the sundae is infused with almond milk and has the exact same consistency as regular dairy ice cream, without sacrificing any richness in flavor. It’s topped with whipped cream and bananas. 

I'd recommend Crossroads especially for vegans and for anyone who’s interested in getting introduced to plant-based dining, but hasn’t made the full jump just yet. Trust me, you won’t have time to miss the meat, because what you’ll get instead is a wide variety of colorful, creative — and filling — options. A well-prepared dinner in a classy ambiance — that’s what Crossroads is all about. 

See you there soon!

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