There isn’t any Beef Bourguignon on the menu at the East Village’s newest French bistro. And even butter is hard to find.
Its debut earlier this year is a huge development for herbivores, who probably never imagined they’d be able to enjoy the flavors of cuisine Francaise. Table Verte’s chef Ken Larsen, though, says the concept actually makes perfect sense, even if it’s uncommon. “French chefs are really good at making vegetables flavorful, they’re just usually used as a garnish or as a pedestal for a protein, like fish or steak,” he says.
Larsen, a vegan triathlete who trained and cooked in French kitchens and steakhouses for years, upgrades veggies to center-of-plate status. He uses fresh, local produce and avoids faux meats like seitan and tofu. And while some dishes do carry the familiar creamy, cheesy French feel (i.e. a phenomenal Parisian-style Gnocchi with truffles, cream sauce, and Swiss), the vegan options often have just as much pop.
For example, the Cassoulet, a rich, thick stew that’s traditionally made with pork or duck becomes an incredibly flavorful, mixed-bean dish with roasted shallots, garlic, and aromatic spices like cumin, cardamom, and chili powder.
And Larsen uses flavor enhancers like a fennel confit, which he makes with fennel oil, rosemary, thyme, garlic, and star anise, in many dishes where butter may have gone before.
So will other French chefs follow suit in the near future? Larsen thinks a shift is inevitable. “Every good chef has a strong appreciation for vegetables, and as the demand for vegetarian fare intensifies, you’re going to see more of it in every cuisine.” —Lisa Elaine Held
Table Verte, 127 East 7th St., between First and A, East Village, www.tablevertenyc.com