Everyone at Avant Garden is eager to talk about the food. The roasted king oyster mushroom with smoked macadamia nuts ($18) is the most popular item on the menu, a cook tells us as he leans across the marble slab bar. But the potato cannelloni ($17), he adds proudly, is the most ambitious. That ambition informs everything at this 30-seat vegan restaurant, where you’re more likely to find flourishes like delicate tendrils anointing dishes just-so than casual greens-and-grains bowls.
It’s the fruition of restaurateur Ravi DeRossi’s (Mother of Pearl, Bergen Hill) long-held desire for a vegan restaurant. His biggest challenge has always been finding the right chef. Bergen Hill’s executive chef, Andrew D’Ambrosi, tinkered for two years to create Avant Garden’s refined menu and now runs its open kitchen, which is framed by black and gold paint and a hanging tree branch, as if in a fairytale. Plates are presented like miniature pieces of art, composed with attention to the shape of a swipe of sauce and the color in bright cubes of beets.
The food may lean fancy, but it’s not all fussy. A section of the menu is devoted to toasts, including roasted eggplant with Calabrian chile and pickled shallot ($12), and one night, two chic women leaned over a bowl of spaghetti pomodoro ($18) as if they were sharing a newspaper.
Nor is the food without a cause. In conjunction with the restaurant’s opening, DeRossi launched BEAST (Benefits to End Animal Suffering Today), a nonprofit animal advocacy group that will host, sponsor and promote events from which the proceeds will be donated to animal rights organizations. The goal, DeRossi says, is to make the environmental- and animal-friendly vegan ethos cool, not sanctimonious—less hippie, more happening.
130 E. 7th St.