Story and Photos By Sarah Willis
A Plant-Based Culinary Culture
I am a lover of great food, especially fresh vegetables and exotic flavors, and I’m passionate about the vegan and locavore movements. Vegan locavore lifestyles bring more commerce to independent farms and extol the virtues of eating locally sourced foods, which are never chemically treated and, most importantly, involve no cruelty to bring to the plate. So naturally, a couple of years ago, when I was first approached to write a restaurant review, I wanted to write about a vegetarian restaurant. I knew about a place in Tivoli, and I went in on a rainy day. I wound up getting take-out, and let’s just say that the food was disappointing and I’m not surprised that place is no longer open. The amazing news is that Plantae, which opened its doors this past spring in the spot of that not-so-great vegetarian restaurant, is an inspired and completely delicious vegan spot.
Raquel Osorio, originally from Brazil, not a country known for having a particularly plant-based culinary culture, is the chef/owner of Plantae. Plantae translates as the plant kingdom, and includes all things “not animal” that come from and grow on the earth. Ms. Osorio has created her dishes from her own culinary experimentation and vegan lifestyle. She understands how to use spices and herbs, and how to layer flavors and create structure and texture to her dishes. She combines foods and builds plates in such a way that even the most rabid carnivores leave her kitchen satisfied.
Take for example her signature dish, the Plantaeful Bowl, a brimming-over bowl of raw and cooked vegetables with a base of legumes and basmati rice, a delicious broth, and topped with house-made condiments. The ingredients change depending upon what’s available and in season; the day we went, she served up local sweet potatoes, pea shoots, cabbage, bok choy and chard. The dish is described as being “the most creative menu item, and the most nutritionally well-rounded.” My only critique here is that it is only available Thursday through Sunday. Luckily, we went on a Sunday, but had I been in on a Plantaeful Bowl blackout day, I would’ve been bummed not to have the option to order it. There is also a gorgeous curry bowl prepared with red split lentils and such aromatic and zingy ingredients as ginger and garlic, cilantro and coconut milk, and scallions and almonds. The whole bowl is then doused with orange cashew turmeric dressing, puffed rice, mixed seeds and toasted coconut for a rich finish and delightful crunch.
Ms. Osorio’s menu includes three salads: my favorite is A Better Caesar, which combines the traditional romaine lettuce with curly kale and roasted chick peas, croutons, yellow and red cherry tomatoes and a creamy dressing. Vegan versions of traditional satisfying sandwiches are also offered up: the BLAT (vegan bacon, lettuce, tomato—A is for avocado) and the Muffuletta, made with homemade giardinara and artichoke pesto, vegan cheese, capers and olives.
I would eat at Plantae every day if I had the luxury. Some specials I’ve had the opportunity to try include smoked mushroom tacos, presented beautifully on a metal taco-holder gadget that holds the tacos upright on the plate; local velvety tomato soup made with cashew cream; and cannellini bean and leek puree topped with locally foraged roasted mushrooms and deep-fried fiddlehead ferns, which is my favorite thing that I have eaten all year.
Plantae serves up decadent and healthful dishes that you will find nowhere else and that you can feel great about eating. What tastes and feels better in your body than vibrant food, prepared by a caring, independent chef/restaurant owner, having a myriad of health benefits for us and for the earth? Nothing, in my opinion. Plantae is here to stay!
For more information about Plantae, visit www.plantaetivoli.com.