New York City has French bistros. New York City also has vegetarian restaurants. Combine the two and you get Table Verte, a true, first of its kind, vegetarian French bistro in the East Village/Alphabet City. While Table Verte opened in late 2012, Hurricane Sandy derailed its plans and is really now just a month and a half old. The quaint minimalist interior of the 38-seat restaurant sits in a great location, just off of 1st Avenue on 7th street. The restaurant finds itself in the former location of Taureau which has since moved to the West Village next to its sister restaurant La Sirene. All three restaurants are owned by Chef Didier Pawlicki, though his newest spot, Table Verte, is run by Executive Chef Ken Larsen.
For those of you who read this blog know that I am not a vegetarian, that honor falls to my wife (who is now sort of a pescatarian of sorts), and very much enjoy meat and fish for that matter. Over the years I have come to thoroughly enjoy mostly everything vegetarian with the exception of fake “meat” that tries to taste like real meat. Table Verte opted to go the route of serving vegetarian food that features seasonality on a constantly changing menu. Dishes do not try and create mock meat. Instead they let the vegetable shine while making them delicious.
Prior to our first course arriving a little basket of housemade foccicia with onion and rosemary graced our table. The bread was warm, fresh and without butter or oil, but it is safe to say, it wasn’t needed or missed. Everything you eat at Table Verte is made in house, from the entrees to the desserts.
For our dinner, we started with a plate of four vegetables, each can be ordered individually, or as a plate to share as an appetizer. These included a raw celery root salad with a homemade mayo, lentils with bruniose of carrots, celery and leeks with a dijon vinaigrette, beets with horseradish and a carrot salad with chick peas, leeks, raisins and lemon spiced vinaigrette. Each had it own flavor profile that was different from the others. The celery root is macerated in lemon juice to soften the texture and give it a fresh taste. I was a huge fan of the beets, as the sweet natural flavor of the beet went well with the horseradish and various herbs. The other two were also quite good, but of the four, the lentils were my least favorite.
Next we received a vegetarian cassoulet with a yam cake on the side. The Cassoulet was served with mixed beans and confit of shallot and garlic. The cassoulet was quite delicious and the despite the absence of any pork or other meat products, the flavor was quite wonderful. Obviously the lack of meat was noticeable, but I think that a vegetarian would find it delicious and not miss that meat factor. The yam cake was also out of this world. It was like a little layered lasagna, except with sweet potato. It was sweet, but not so much so that it should have been on the dessert menu.
The final savory dish was the gnocchi parisian au gratin. Basically gnocchi with lots of swiss cheese topped with black truffles. Not truffle oil or essence (which really ruins dishes), real truffles. And they definitely don’t skimp on them either. The dish is rich and luckily we only got a smaller, tasting menu portion. The full size is large and a good value at $19.75.
Finally, for dessert we shared a banana brulee – Nilla crackers, banana, and Crème Patissiere, with a caramel crust. This is really comfort food at its finest. We also tried the semolina cake with caramel, raisins, rum and Crème Anglaise. This is not my typical preferred dessert, but it was moist and the creme anglaise was magical. And finally we tasted the vegan chocolate tart, dark Callebaut chocolate avocado “ganache” with rice, almond and raisin crust. Normally, vegan dessert equals total meh. This however, was rich and I didn’t know it was vegan until being told so. Chef Ken was able to bring delicious creamy chocolate flavor of a tart without the use of any dairy. Amazing.
One thing to note is that for now, the restaurant is BYOB. A beer and wine license will be coming soon, but for now, bring your own bottle of wine and enjoy it with your dinner — no corkage fees. My overall impression of Table Verte is that the food is quite excellent and really does remind carnivores (or omnivores) that you can have a delicious meal without the presence of meat. With a clientele built up from Chef Didier’s other restaurants, curious diners, vegetarians and everyone else, the restaurant should do great business. I will certainly be back with The Vegetarian soon.