I solicited my coworker/friend for suggestions for Friday night, something “light and healthy,” thinking she’d just send me to District Taco or something of that ilk. But instead she pondered, then asked “Do you care how much you pay?”
That’s the question when it comes to Fancy Radish. As often happens, it was on my radar for a long time but became a place I consistently rejected because “why pay all that money for just vegetables?” and eventually got dropped from the list I keep in my phone. I don’t need Fancy Radish; why can’t I just have Business Casual Rutabaga? But this time I decided to just go for it, didn’t read the menu, and made a quick reservation.
To drink, I ordered the Paper Leaves, which combined the refreshment of tequila and lemon with the heft and coziness of allspice without straying too far in either direction. Although not something I’d typically order, I was glad I did. My husband had a glass of the Souson red wine, which promised via their website to have “great polyphenolic potential.” I can’t think of a douchier way to describe a wine–it’s basically the modern equivalent of red wine has healthy antioxidants hur hur–but it was quite tannic and appealed to my husband.
The menu is quite limited. I thought it was just the list of specials when I saw it. And yet, it was somehow still hard to narrow it down to just three dishes. We settled on the beet toast (can’t lose!), chermoula grilled tofu, and the obvious best choice, spicy dan dan noodles.
The beet toast came out first, looking and smelling like the best lox bagel you’ve seen. Upon closer inspection, the cream cheese has been replaced by teeny tiny cubes of tofu, which carried a light smoke flavor and a creaminess almost as good as actual cheese. The beets are shaved thin and seasoned, and the bread is so crispy/soft it’s deserving of nothing less than an Italian chef’s air kiss. My husband, initially skeptical of the vegan cheese replacement, insisted I somehow figure out how to make this at home. I fear I will never do it justice.
Our larger plates came out together and were the perfect size. I’ll start with the grilled tofu here. It reminded me of something I couldn’t place at the time, although in retrospect I realized it was this lentil/chorizo/fish dish with chimichurri I’ve been cooking a ton lately. It was obviously missing the chorizo and the fish, but even my husband said that if you had told him he was eating fish, he never would have noticed it was tofu. It had a crispy blackened exterior and the lentils were spicy, smoky perfection. My only minor qualm with it is that the flavor profile was nothing super crazy or revolutionary. It would be a lie to say it wasn’t tasty, though.
Predictably, the spicy dan dan noodles were the unbeatable star. I loved the heartiness from the mushrooms, although in my heart of hearts I know it would be better with a more interesting maitake or woodear mushroom, as the shiitakes became stereotypically slimy when drenched in dan dan sauce. But oh, let me tell you about this sauce. Slightly hot, but so rich, shining with sesame but not overpowered by it. The noodles were perfectly cooked, but we had to go full-gringo eating them with our forks instead of the fancy chopsticks we were given.
We finished up with dessert. We weren’t even hungry, anyore, but were just too curious to let it go. We eschewed vegan creme brulee, vegan pastry, and vegan sticky toffee pudding in favor of the chocolate bar. More unbaked brownie than candy, it had the texture of raw double chocolate cookie dough, with a grittiness that was actually pleasant. I was super curious to try the lavender ice cream and to its credit, it was very creamy but also very lavendery. Be aware.
Price: $70 per person.
Bottom line: Long story short, Fancy Radish is over here what I’ve long suspected: straight up veg meals are 1000% better than “vegan food.” Veggies and tofu and nutritional yeast don’t have to pretend to be meat. Gtfoh with vegan cheese. Love the food the way god made it. I definitely bought a copy of their chef’s cookbook and I’m very stoked to jazz up my weekly vegetarian meals (and yeah, the dan dan recipe is in the book).