[Pigging by Wilfrid: April 15, 2013]
In the beginning, Didier Pawlicki created La Sirène in SoHo, and Frank Bruni found the hearty bistro food and BYOB policy good. Inspired, he opened Taureau, a fondue restaurant, also BYOB in the East Village.
I think it's fair to say that Taureau caused less of a stir. Late last year, Taureau beat a retreat to SoHo, where it nestles in the shadow of its elder sibling. Where Taureau had been, M. Pawlicki now gives us Table Verte.
That's the really startling thing about the menu.
I imagine there are French vegetarian restaurants in France, but if there's one in the States--let alone New York city--I've never seen it. Furthermore, unlike some of the more bistro-ish vegan options in town--Blossom, for example--this is a menu which eschews fake meat and seafood (fake chicken, fake duck, fake scallops), as well as slabs of "meaty" proteins like seitan and tempeh, in favor of a focus on the vegetables themselves.
That might seem to put it in the camp of nearby Dirt Candy, but really the cuisine could hardly be different.
Warm, house-made rosemary foccaccia kicked off a recent press dinner (thanks for the invitation, and yes the meal was comped).
Chef Larsen features non-vegan dishes (there are buttered pastas, a goat cheese tart, a cheesy eggplant lasagna), but the meal he served us was (with an obvious exception) vegan; and succeeded in showcasing the possibility of a hearty, French, and entirely filling, vegan meal.
We started light, with a room temperature leek vinaigrette, sharpened with a slice of grapefruit, aromatic with truffle oil (the room smells of truffles, which is never a bad thing).
Then a smooth soup, celeriac, made creamy with almond milk. There was another hint of truffle. I'd have reached for the salt, but this was smoothly comforting.
The most unusual dish of the evening was roasted brussel sprouts with hunks of caramelized, balsamic strawberries. Curious, because the molten strawberries contributed the dish's main sharpness and acidity; the brussels were almost the sweet component. Perhaps it needed something more to tie it together, but it was certainly interesting.
Cassoulet is French. Less so when the goose and sausage are extracted. Chef Larsen served a three bean hot pot sailing under that name. It was warming, but truthfully didn't have a lot going on apart from the beans (I ate a three bean chili recently, and this was kind of the same, minus the chili).
But the accompaniment was excellent. Greens, left just al dente, and dressed with lemon zest, mushrooms, and corn kernels. The lemon was a great bass note.
Following that, a real rib-sticker (something hungry vegans or their omnivorous dining companions will appreciate). Choux fleur roti: a big piece of cauliflower, seared around the edges--there's your umami-- and served with roast sweet potato, and sautéed greens.
Lurking beneath, two fine touches. A portion of quinoa fragrant with rosemary (why did it taste so much like sage? Anyway, it was good), and a sweet-sour fig and caper sauce.
The non-vegan dish--ah, you spotted it?--was almost too much. Gnocchi au gratin, the little parcels buried in a bechamel sauce, slathered with melted swiss cheese, and accented, again, with truffles.
Our boots were filled. Any of the three preceding dishes are enough to make non-vegetarians forget about meat. Temporarily, anyway.
Several at the table were crying for mercy at this point. I took my time, and another glass of Rioja, and worked my way through it.
Of the two desserts, I found the smoky pineapple with a coconut ice cream the less interesting.
But the pieces of chocolate--what? Cake? Pudding?--had an amazing double texture. The outside is crisped with rice flour. The interior is made smooth and exceptionally creamy through the use of avocado. No, you don't taste the avocado. It just gives you a chocolate which is as creamy as guacamole. If that makes sense.
The menu, for some reason, avoids round prices (soup $6.75), but you'll find appetizers roughly in the $7-$9 range, main dishes $15-$18. You'll have to call to see if the license has arrived.
A good option, not just for vegetarians and vegans, for mixed parties, where the omnivores are worried about eating leaves and brown rice all night. Here's the website.