I’m always a tad apprehensive when sitting down for a vegan meal. In truth, I’ve never had much exposure to the ‘vegan’ concept until arriving in New York – i’d always wonder how on earth it was possible to create a satisfying, flavourful meal without the use of any dairy products. Avant Garden, in New York City’s East Village just showed me how.
The restaurant offers an upscale vegan dining experience, and it does so incredibly well. I’ll safely say it’s one of the best restaurants i’ve been to in a while.
Inside, is a charming scene. The dim lighting and simple, rustic-yet-chic decor come together to offer an intimate, romantic vibe (although not so romantic that you couldn’t come with friends). Given the space is small, be sure to book ahead – if you ask me, it’s best to come in a group of two & sit at the bar counter. The tables on the floor appeared rather cramped, and by sitting there you’d miss out on watching the chefs work their magic behind the bar, not to mention the comfiest bar stools i’ve ever sat my behind on (generous in size, padded & upholstered – I could have sat there all night).
The menu is made up of small plate dishes in three different sections: Toasts, Cold and Hot. Between the 2 of us we tried 5 dishes, & i’m pleased to report, that everything was brilliant. Avant Garden’s chefs are doing a fantastic job of bringing together quality plant-based ingredients to create carefully put together, beautiful plates of unusual food, literally bursting with flavours & textures. P.S. You won’t find any tofu here – it’s all vegetables, fruits, grains, nuts, herbs & spices put together in a clever & elegant fashion.
Here’s what we had …
And then I was craving something sweet. When i discovered they only served one dessert, and it happened to be rice pudding, i was immediately turned off. You see, i’m not a fan of rice pudding and never have been. However, since my dinner date loved rice pudding & the manager highly recommended it, we ordered it anyway & I decided to give it a shot. And i’m so very glad I did – because it was exceptional! Made with coconut milk and with a beautiful touch of cinnamon, it really was exquisite. So there you go, Avant Garden is officially the first place to change my attitude towards rice pudding.
N.B. I was told that the restaurant is still in the process of developing its dessert menu, which is great as i’d definitely like to see more choice, but having said that, i’d gladly devour that rice pudding again in a heartbeat!
Service was impeccable – from the manager presenting us with glasses of complimentary champagne while we waited for our table to free up, to our waiter’s infectious smile & upbeat personality, to the random & informative chats with the friendly chef behind the counter. It was for sure the best service i’ve had in New York to date.
Price-wise, it’s not cheap, ($20 on average for entrees) but you’re paying for excellent, innovative food, beautiful presentation & wonderful service, so all in all, i’d say it’s worth it.
My only (half) negative comments would be …
1. Be prepared to smell when you leave – since there’s no butter in the kitchen, cooking oils are the chosen ingredient, some of which tend to let off a strong, smoky aroma as they burn. My hair & clothes stank after the meal, but it was totally worth it, so i really didn’t care.
2. There’s hardly any space to stand if you have to wait for your table when you get there – which wasn’t so bad for the 2 of us, but a larger group probably would have to wait outside in the cold.
Nevertheless, that evening, we made our ways home grinning & comfortably full (but not stuffed nor bloated). After a wonderful vegan evening at Avant Garden, and not having missed meat or dairy for a second during the meal, i’m already looking forward to going back and trying more interesting dishes from their menu as it evolves over time.
Dips Bites: I can’t say i’ve been to many vegan restaurants, but i know this much, Avant Garden is a damn good one. My stand out dishes were the sunchoke toast, gnocchi & rice pudding and overall, i was beyond pleasantly surprised at the quality & sophistication of the vegan food on offer. The restaurant really is doing a fantastic job of showcasing just how much vegan cuisine has evolved, and demonstrating that classy vegan cooking can work incredibly well. This is a must try for vegetarians & vegans – and for anyone skeptical about plant-based cooking, go try out Avant Garden to really see what vegan cuisine has to offer. I doubt you’ll be disappointed.
130 East 7th Street, New York City (East 7th & Avenue A)