The Undercover Vegetarian: Alma
At Alma, the downtown restaurant owned by chef Ari Taymor (and the subject of this week's restaurant review), vegetarian options take up about a quarter to a third of the menu on any given night. The problem is that the menus are very short, so while there are certainly meat-free things you can eat, you should be excited by the idea of giving yourself over to this chef and his aesthetic rather than hope to come in and have a standard veggie plate.
Anne Fishbein Broccoli and mushrooms at Alma
Are you the type of person, for instance, who might like to snack on seaweed and tofu beignets, or be thrilled by the idea of spring onion and sunflower seed soup with burnt orange and flowering coriander? This is no throwaway vegetarian; there's no simple pasta with pesto to be had here. Vegetables are taken seriously, and the veggie dishes are just as creative and thought out as the meat dishes.
Taymor is a salad artist of the highest order. His salads are beautiful to look at and eating them is almost an intellectual experience. Goat cheese, layered with leeks, layered with 5 or 6 different greens and herbs both bitter and aromatic.
There is always one larger plate that has no meat -- a few weeks back it was a collection of tiny carrots and some mushrooms; more recently it was broccoli and mushrooms, which sounds simple but was most decidedly not, the plate a landscape of textures and flavors.
In some ways, Alma should be seen as a haven for vegetarians, a place to come and get a meat-free meal with the exact same amount of thought and care put in as your meat-eating counterparts might receive. For those who are excited about giving themselves over to a chef and experiencing something interesting and different, this will be a blessing. For those looking for something more straightforward, or who are picky eaters, Alma is not the restaurant for you, vegetarian or not.
See also: The Undercover Vegetarian archives.
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