Vegan Rating: B
For our two year anniversary, Jen and I went to Equinox in Farragut Square for Chef Todd Gray's 6 course vegan tasting menu. Chef Gray's wife is apparently vegan, and he has been vocal about expanding restaurant offerings to accommodate adventurous and upscale eaters who often get screwed with a default vegan or vegetarian offering of some poorly prepared vegetable afterthought. For this, I love him.
We had called beforehand to make our reservation, and specified that we wanted to do the vegan tasting menu. However, when we got to the restaurant a few weeks later, we found out that because it was restaurant week, they weren't doing the tasting menu that night. They apologized for the discrepancy, and instead they provided us with the 5 vegan options from the restaurant week menu. It still made for a beautiful meal, albeit not a well thought out course of dishes I would have served consecutively as part of a tasting. The other thing that bothered me was that there was no menu for us to follow along with. However, the service was great and we had a waiter who did his best to accommodate us.
The flavors were deep and complex (for the most part) and I was pretty impressed for a chef who isn't a vegan. Frankly, though, I won't go back- I think it was too pricy for what we got at $65 per person (not including wine). Some of the dishes were a bit bland and I don't really think he pushed the limits of what beautiful vegan food can look and taste like. These dishes were pretty safe and unimaginative. I give him an A for effort, but a B for taste, cost and execution- keeping in mind that the tasting menu likely would have been much more diverse.
Photo note: I chose not to edit the photos because I feel that if you're going to see pictures and read about the dishes, they should be presented to you just as they were to me. Often I brighten up the images for lighter whites and more contrasting colors, but this meal was particularly beige (one of the reasons I wasn't head over heels for it) and I don't want to misrepresent that for readers.
Here is the breakdown (the bread is technically not a course but I included it):
1. Curry Begniet
The curry begniet was straight up delicious. It was crispy, salty, a little spicy, and almost creamy inside. There was a beautiful spiced aioli for dipping, and it wasn't too dense or overwhelming. As you can see, they were little bite sized puffs- almost like an amuse bouche. This was my second favorite course.
A+ for this begniet
2. Bread and Tapenade
There was an offering of a baguette slices, olive bread, or a nutty raisin bread that was delicious and not too sweet. They came with an olive tapenade and some olive oil with toasted fennel or cumin seeds (I couldnt tell because I generally avoid dipping my bread in oil- it fills me up before my meal).
The tapenade was very good. It was nothing particularly special, nor was the bread, but it was good and crusty and dense like it should be and the olives were salty and not too bitter.
A- for this bread and tapenade
3. Truffled Celeriac and White Bean Soup
This soup was served to us as a pour-over. In the bottom of the bowl there was a little nestling of carrots, roasted celeriac, and fresh scallions. The soup was a velvety, earthy puree of cauliflower, celeriac and white beans. It was, to be honest, nothing spectacular. It was warm and hearty, but it lacked brightness and acidity- it was kind of boring and one-note.
C+ for this soup
4. Roasted Winter Citrus and Grilled Avocado Salad
This was by far my favorite dish of the night. This salad was unbelievably light and vibrant, with a variety of textures and flavors. The watercress was fresh and delicate, and it wasn't over-dressed. It came with roasted/dehydrated blood orange slices, fresh grapefruit, smoky grilled avocado, a blood orange vinaigrette, and shaved red onion. It was so nice to have this salad to cut the blandness of the previous dish- I had been waiting for something brightly acidic and fresh and this came at the perfect time.
A+ for this salad
5. Pasta with Hen of the Woods Mushrooms
I had such high hopes for this dish, but I was pretty disappointed with the results. The pasta itself, I will say, was perfectly chewy and delicious. But the sauce tasted suspiciously similar to the soup we had just two courses earlier, and the hen of the woods mushrooms lacked that deliciously deep roasted flavor we crave from them. The rest of the vegetables were not given any sort of interesting treatment, which really just made me feel "meh" toward the whole dish. The only reason the rating isn't a C or below is that the pasta itself really was well executed.
B- for this pasta dish
6. Cauliflower Kefir Lime and Coconut Milk Stew
As I said earlier, because they had messed up our reservations for the tasting menu, it was clear that the courses we were served weren't meant to be paired together. And Even though this stew was delicious, it felt so out of place compared to everything else- especially since we had already gotten a soup as part of the tasting. However, on its own it would have made a great meal. It was bold and flavorful with a spicy kick, and it was stick-to-your-ribs decadent. There definitely needed to be some sort of garnish to brighten it up- even just a little sprinkle of fresh cilantro would have really helped it out.
B+ for this stew
7. Olive Oil Citrus Cake
This cake was a nice ending to the meal. It was light and fresh, paired with lime coconut milk sorbet, candied orange peels, and grapefruit slices. The cake was a little bit dry, but if you took a bite with a little bit of everything, the dryness was barely noticeable. I loved the candied orange peels- they were light and crispy, and lent a nice crunch to each bite. As a vegan dessert chef for a catering company, I must say I am not incredibly impressed by the cake. But the sorbet and the candied orange peel were so good that it really raised my impression of the dish.
A- for this dessert