12/11/11

Restaurant Review | Vedge, Philadelphia, PA

Exterior of the entrance of Vedge and the store next door
On a recent sans les enfants weekend getaway in Philadelphia, Mr. Scissors and I happily chose to dine at the recently opened Vedge Restaurant, a new venture by the owners of the former Horizons. Since the two of us had been customers of Horizons since it was in its original location in Willow Grove, we were quite happy to have a version of it back on the scene.
Highlights of the Cocktail Lounge
Bar
The two cozy dining rooms
Vedge has taken residence in an historic mansion on Locust St--the former location of Deux CheminĂ©es. Sounds fancy, right? It is! It's so nice, as a vegetarian, to have an upscale option for dining. You know, a place that isn't playing ironic music from the 90s and were the bathrooms aren't all covered in graffiti. Why should only omnivores have all the high-heeled, dressed up dining?

The interior of Vedge is grand, yet cozy, with a former pipe-smoking boy's club feel meets a mod Martha Stewart and marble update. Five stately rooms comprise the entirety of the restaurant--one being for the bar area, one for the cocktail lounge and three for dining.

Even though we had reservations, our table was not ready, so we were seated in the living room-like cocktail lounge featuring a chandelier made of spoons. We browsed the cocktail lounge small plates menu, but were seated before it was deemed necessary to order. Shame, there were a few things I would have liked to order like the golden beet tartare and the jerk spiced cashews.

Cocktail Lounge Menu (L) and Shaved Califlower with Smoky Mustard and Crispy Cauliflower shared plates (R)
I was slightly disappointed that we were seated at the "vegetable bar" at a high-top. I find that style of table incredibly uncomfortable and something more suited for a quick bite to eat rather than for a meal where you will be seated for two hours. The seats themselves were rather slippery, so I felt as though I had to keep myself from sliding off the entire time we were dining. I would have asked to move, but the dining room was at full capacity. The diners next to us seemed to taunt us on their cushy upholstered chairs with their feet firmly planted on the floor. One advantage of this room (which could also be seen as a disadvantage to some) was that I was able to observe the kitchen and prep areas with great awe--the prep staff (including Chef Landau) who seemed to be in a meditative state as they finalized each plate. There was quite the bustle through this room accompanied by the constant parade of waitstaff. My advice, if you are going to Vedge, asked to be seated in the other two dining rooms. Much cozier and romantic.

It surprisingly took awhile for our server to finally greet us and explain the method of the menu. I was initially put off by the need of explanation, but now going through the process, I understand it, though I am not 100% sure I like it. The menu is made of reasonably priced "small plates;" some meant for sharing while the other dishes, sorted from lightest at the top of the menu to heaviest (seitan!) at the bottom of the menu. Essentially, you chose your dining experience and meal. Want 3 dishes for dinner? That is fine, because the portions are sized more like sides. We had a extremely hard time deciding how to put together our meal because I wanted one of everything. I know that Chef Landau is an expert at creating dishes that are simultaneously complex and accessible, so I wanted a good cross section of the menu.

The Main Menu
We put our heads together, studied the menu and decided that we'd dine on:

For starters: crispy cauliflower and from "The Dirt List," shaved brussels sprouts with a mustard sauce
As our shared plate: Banh mi crostini
For our main event: Me--steak spice seared tofu; Him--grilled seitan with black lentils (of course!)
For dessert: The choco taco and the cranberry beignets with apple cider

Banh Mi Crostini
Grilled Seitan with Black Lentils

Steak Spice Seared Tofu
Once we finally settled into the swing of things and decided, with the help of our server, the order in which the dishes would be served, we sampled our shared plates (the brussels and the cauliflower) which were both incredibly tasty--foodie comfort food. I wish that we each ordered a plate of the two. I wanted more! They were hard to share and we both agreed that the sauce should have been on top of the cauliflower since the sauce was very hard to scoop up with the vegetables.

Next course was our banh mi crostini. Yummy flavors, but the crostini was too small and too flimsy making each bite very awkward and messy. There were only three super teeny points of untoasted bread; the ratio of topping to bread was way off. Considering myself quite the banh mi aficionado, I thought the tastes were right, but the focus seemed to be on presentation over user-friendliness.

Because there are so many plates in involved in this small plate concept of dining, there was constant shuffling of sharing plates, serving plates, pieces of slate on which the plates were presented, table wiping, etc. It all seemed to distract from the experience of tasting. I'm a fussy person, always over the top on what I do, so I understand to the need/want to hyper focus on details, but when those details distract from the actual experience, it can lend to a very, well, distracting experience.

I was quite relieved when our final plates came, which we treated as the main entrees. Now, I felt settled enough to focus on the flavors, the presentation, etc. It was just us with with a simple plate in front of us.

Of course, my husband went for what he loved from Horizons, the seitan. And, wow, it was everything we remembered. Tender, flakey (without a touch of the rubberiness of amateur seitan), cooked with a perfect woodsy/smoky char and that perfect buttery melt in your mouth perfection we all fell in love with at Horizons. It was perectly accomanpied by earthy and richly flavored black lentils and julienned kohlrabi.  I had the steak spice seared tofu and I also thought it was spot on. Halfway through, I noticed that the spice on the tofu tasted very familiar, then the taste brought me back to my childhood, something my dad used to make often... "Oh my goodness, this tastes just like Shake and Bake!" My husband asked, "Is that good or bad?" I replied, "I loved Shake and Bake so very good!" Both dishes would definitely be ordered again the next time we go.

To finish the meal, we ordered the choco taco and the beignets. I was a little sad that the beignets were served with cranberry jelly and not like I originally read when one of the early menus were published, chocolate dipping sauce, but they were still very seasonally appropriate and good. Airy and light and freshly made. The choco taco, was, well, interesting. A foodie marvel if you will. My husband took the first bite and made a face. "What?" I asked. "SMOKE!" The vanilla ice cream was a smoked vanilla ice cream; I seemed to have missed that when we ordered. It literally tasted like a campfire smells. The shells was like a crispy pancake of of sugar and nuts that did not hold up to a bite, so again, was awkward to eat, even with a spoon. And as far as it being a choco taco, I think there may have been a hint of chocolate at the bottom of the taco, but I'm not certain.

Overall, I liked Vedge. I had a hard time putting all my thoughts together about the experience, because it was just that, an experience. I over-thought the review at first thinking I was being overly critical because as far as plant-based cuisine goes, this is a gourmet as it gets. So when you are held in high regard, the criticisms are also going to be that much more biting (no pun intended). Like when I would get an "A-" on a test, my father would ask sternly, "Why isn't this an A?" Then my brother would get a "C" on an exam and we'd all go out and celebrate with ice cream. He expected more from me just like I expect more from Vedge. So, in the end, I decided to just give my honest assessment based on 1) how it felt being there and 2) the food.

How I felt at Vedge: Things felt awkward and overly fussy. Example: the poor, poor servers had to serve bread with two spoons used as tongs. They all failed miserably and I felt very sorry for them. It was very awkward. The menu requiring explanation was awkward. It felt like the service and the menu were set up to be different for difference sake and somewhat sacrificed the user's ability to interface with it in a comfortable way. This fussiness was distracting. All the plates and table wiping made it hard to carry on a conversation. All the while, I had to keep from slipping off my seat! On the flip side, the staff really seemed to want to make our experience pleasurable and our waitress was very knowledgeable and friendly, albeit a little forgetful.

The meal: I loved everything we tasted (minus the choco taco, which was interesting, but I would not reorder it). Our shared plates were not really easy to share, but if you are just ordering for yourself, they are easy enough to partake of without difficulty. And honestly,  I think everything would have been even better if things were approached more simply in presentation and in service.

Overall, yes, I would go back to Vedge in a heart beat. Specially now that I know how to navigate the overall experience. It's also perfect for those special moments in life--birthdays, dates, anniversaries, etc. Vedge is definitely not a place for children, so get a babysitter if you do go there to celebrate. One of the best parts is, dining at Vedge won't break the bank!  Our final bill was under $100. My husband asked to take a guess and I said, "$220!" Not even close! And that is a very good thing.

Vedge Restaurant
1221 Locust St
Philadelphia, PA 19107
(215) 320-7500
www.vedgerestaurant.com

2 comments:

  1. We used to go to a Horizons out past Abbington. It was kind of pricey for veg food and I got sick of paying $50 for what was essentially 2 dinners of flamed tofu slabs, black beans, and really good homemade bread.

    I appreciate the review you gave. Chef Gordan Ramsey definitely has bleeped out against menus that need explaining.Sounds like Vedge is great but overly ambitious.

    As a fellow shortie, those chairs sound like a nightmare.

    What did you guys drink with your meal? How was the layering of flavors from each course/plate?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Water and a decaf cap w/ soy milk (was hoping they had at least almond as an option). And all the flavors went seamlessly into the course. Nothing clashed. I also appreciate that the don't seem to use a ton of garlic and onion!

    ReplyDelete

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