'Twas a drizzly, blustery night when Inhabitat Editor-in-Chief Jill Fehrenbacher, Editorial Project Manager Laura Mordas-Schenkein and I popped into Avant Garden, restaurateur Ravi DeRossi's nascent vegan foodie haven on the Lower East Side. After thawing ourselves out a bit in the eatery's warm glow, we soon forgot our wet weather woes and began gabbing as friends who haven't seen each other for many months will do. Jill, who was visiting from San Francisco, filled us in on the charming Airbnb digs she'd rented in Brooklyn Heights, but lamented her decision to dine at the sounded-good-on-Yelp restaurant below them. "The vegan options were so disappointing," she explained. "My $20 'walnut pesto pasta' turned out to be pasta slathered in store-bought pesto topped with a few walnuts." I could relate. As a vegetarian of nearly five years, I've been burned many times by restaurants that promised cruelty-free eats but delivered dishes that were actually cruel to the tastebuds instead. No wonder meat lovers aren't chomping at the bit to eat vegan cuisine. How were we supposed to convince people to try it when so many places were passing off second-rate fare as vegetarian? And then our food came. Creamy, savory, and a world apart from the factory-made vegetarian tripe (who knew such a thing existed?) Jill had been made to gulp down the night before, Avant Garden's offerings were pure plant-based perfection.
DeRossi made headlines earlier this year when he announced that he would be converting all 15 of his New York City bars and restaurants, including the popular Bourgeois Pig, to vegan establishments as a way to slash their environmental impact. Avant Garden is the first of his forays into vegan cuisine.
“While it may not seem a revolutionary act to simply enjoy a meal in a restaurant, the elimination of animal flesh and animal byproducts in one’s diet not only eases or eliminates an animal’s suffering, it’s also the most effective way an average person can ease the unmitigated environmental disaster that we as a species are collectively creating,” reads the restaurant’s website. “Each meal containing meat and/or dairy requires an unprecedented amount of natural resources to produce, and even small amounts create a truly shocking amount of pollution. Switching to a fully plant-based diet also likely prolongs one’s life, and certainly keeps one in better health than typical, traditional Western diets.”
But Avant Garden doesn’t just want to preach to the choir. One of the eatery’s main goals is to show meat eaters that animal-free meals don’t have to mean sacrificing flavor. Chef Alex Aparicio (formerly of Dovetail and then Narcissa) and his team skillfully transform the fresh, seasonal ingredients they procure into adventurous but harmonious tapestries of taste that are divided into three simple sections on the menu: toasts, cold and hot.
We skipped the “cold” section since it was a chilly night, but thoroughly indulged in the “hots”.
In addition to the savory menu offerings, Avant Garden‘s Earth-conscious ethos is also reflected in its interior decor, which was designed personally by DeRossi.
“When I envisioned the theme I wanted for this venture, it was very much an earthy and organic one, with plenty of rustic brown tones and dim lighting – my vision was to create an intimate dining space, where my diners would feel comfortable and in natural surroundings,” the restaurateur told us. “Keeping in mind the importance of sustainability in today’s world, we endeavored to source as much re-purposed furniture as possible for the kit out of the restaurant. For example, the wood dining table tops, the shelving units and the centrally hanging branch chandelier have all been salvaged and re-constructed. Additionally, our bar counter is constructed from petrified wood. Many of the other elements in the space, whilst not being actual recycled items, have originated from natural products such as stone and wood, rather than man-made commodities, in keeping with the eco-friendly aspect of our theme.”
Avant Garden is located at 130 East 7th Street on the Lower East Side of Manhattan and is open from 5PM to 10:45PM from Sunday-Thursday and from 5PM-11:45PM on Friday and Saturday.