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A Plate of Vegetables

November 13, 2018

Some people need to sit down to a big piece of meat at dinner time. To them, nothing less feels like a meal. Vegetables may be token gestures that get put on the side. Maybe they will even be fried. Starches are available to extend the meal, lest the protein on its own be insufficient. But often times they are left uneaten, or merely picked over.

A salad might be offered at first, but that is almost like a punishment. Maybe a tax. If you eat the tired mix of iceberg lettuce, a wooden tomato, red onion rings, and a slice of cucumber, you’ve earned the avalanche of food that’s to come.

It’s my understanding that my grandfather used to eat like this. Lots of people used to eat like this. Heck, plenty of people still do eat like this. The prooftext is simply the American restaurant menu.

Maybe you’ll be able to find other options. But this mode of eating is still present. Even Chez Panisse would keep steaks on hand should an old school eater make their way into this dining room that was all about local, seasonal, and sustainable produce.

Which is why I cherish those places that are breaking from the mold.

Getting old stinks. Yes, I am going to blame time and age for my slowing metabolism and diminishing appetite. Part of me thinks that gastronomy is a young man’s game. Oh to be in my twenties again, and to be able to eat with such reckless abandon.

Sure, if I’m called on to judge a food competition, I can suck down an unthinkable quantity of creamy chowders or dozens of deep fried chicken wings. But for the next few days my diet is likely little more than Greek yogurt, avocado toast, and rice with beans.

However, when left to my own devices, I have been trying to be more moderate.

Can I still imagine a circumstance where I might treat myself to a second lunch? Sure. But for the most part, I’m trying to order right-sized portions, even when going out to eat. And I’ve also been focusing much more on foods that contain delicious preparations of vegetables.

This isn’t about being anti-meat. I love meat. Meat is just something I can cook pretty well at home. It’s not that hard to make it super delicious. Vegetables are a much bigger pain in the ass. Plus, Mrs. Fussy would likely say that I’m not eating enough vegetables. She’s probably right.

So, if I can find a talented chef, who will make delicious vegetables for me? That’s a place that will make my short list of restaurants to visit. And that’s how I ended up back at Lost & Found last week, sitting at the chef’s counter, and shooting the breeze with chef Ian Brower.

I had just come from a tasting at Hank Hudson Brewing Company (more on that later) and I wasn’t particularly hungry, but I really felt I could use a plate of vegetables. As it turns out, on Ian’s fall/winter menu there are a whole host of options, and they all sound amazing.

Since part of this effort is to try and be a little healthier, I was able to rule out the fried pumpkin with rosemary and aged gouda. Really, I was in between the charred winter squash with stracchino, radicchio jam, and walnut pistu; or the slow roasted parsnips with braised cabbage, hazelnuts, toum, red wine syrup, and sage.

After talking with Ian, I went for the parsnips. He loves braised cabbage, and I was thinking about making a batch of it at home. This dish was fantastic. What the menu fails to mention is that the sage leaves are fried, and fried herbs are some of my favorite things. But this was a delightful combination of textures and flavors. And it was all about vegetables being taken as seriously as a center of the plate ingredient.

As an added bonus, if you sit at the counter and talk with Ian, he’ll send you out a little bite of something too. I got to try his pear and celery salad with pink peppercorns, herbs, feta, bay vinaigrette.

What a pleasant surprise that was. When I think about fall salads with pears and cheese, my eyes tend to glaze over. It feels tired. But there is nothing tired about the thin and earthy strips of celery, with the funk of feta, the fun of fruit, and the floral notes of pink peppercorn.

By the time I was done, I was beyond sated. The idea of even trying a bite of their house smoked blue cheese was too much. I did get to see Ian torch a winter squash creme brulee. So I could at least live vicariously through other people getting to enjoy a dessert.

For what it’s worth Ian’s meat menu is equally impressive. I was watching him prepare some pate for a charcuterie board special, and enjoying the view of a hanging pancetta in his fridge while I ate my vegetables.

More than anything, I’m thankful for places like Lost & Found that have found a way to be creative with their menus, portions, and their use of vegetables. Because one can have similar experiences at other restaurants, but it still feels weird to walk into Delmonico’s and order a side of Utica Greens as my dinner.

Mind you, that’s not going to stop me from doing it. In fact, I’m hoping to spend much of this winter exploring the greens and beans at some of our better loved Italian places. However, even an appetizer of that one dish is going to be more than enough food for a meal. And that is a shame. But we can talk more about that later.

One Comment leave one →
  1. albanylandlord permalink
    November 13, 2018 1:13 pm

    This is great to hear. I now judge restaurants’ greatness largely on what they can do with vegetables – it takes a lot more talent and creativity to do what nobody else is doing – and there are so many more options for combinations. I have always loved the Gastropub for their great vegetable dishes – and since Ian hails from there it makes sense that he is continuing that tradition. I was somewhat disappointed when they first opened but i’m not surprised that Ian has stepped it up and found his voice there.

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