When the crudité came out with green chickpea hummus, I was surprised at my wife Jun’s gasp. She was looking incredulously at one of the turnips with dirt still not fully removed. “Is that what I think it is?” She protested to the server who then brought a new bowl of crudité, but it was clear that the damage was already done and Jun was rolling her eyes in disbelief the entire time. I mean, if a vegetarian restaurant, especially from the acclaimed chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, doesn’t even properly take care of the vegetables it serves, what good is it? I get how ABCV may probably be the hottest place to be right now given all the obsession of yoga pants wearing New Yorkers with vegetable dishes, but that doesn’t give you license to be sloppy or even arrogant, right? My gripe with the restaurant actually started even earlier, when we showed up at 5:30 p.m. because the online reservation system didn’t have prime times available, even one month out. We clearly saw the restaurant half-empty at that point, but somehow the maître d decided to seat Jun and I at one of the communal tables. “What the hell?” I thought to myself. I politely asked that we be seated at one of the regular tables, and they still offered the other side of the communal table they initially try to seat us. I finally had it enough and yelled at the staff leading us, “Who in the world gets to decide some people sit at a regular table and others sit at a communal table when clearly there are empty tables everywhere?” Only after that outburst were we seated at one of the regular tables overlooking the kitchen. With all these unpleasant experiences, was ABCV still worth it? I have always tried to make sure in my restaurant reviews that KenScale is based on food only, therefore leaving out extraneous factors such as services out of the equation. With that principle in mind, I would give a reluctant 8.0 to ABCV.
The menu at ABCV consists mostly of shareable vegetarian dishes. Give credit where credit is due; despite the disaster with crudité, Jun and I were both very pleased with the green chickpea hummus that had a mildly spicy kick to it. I regretted ordering the fresh sauerkraut with horseradish and dill (after all, it works best in a hot dog, not as a standalone dish!) for being overly citrusy, but had no complaint whatsoever about roasted cauliflower that displayed great texture and worked harmoniously with turmeric-tahini sauce on the side. I could definitely see myself coming back to the restaurant just for this dish.
Other times, the results were a bit more mixed. We both thought crimini and morel mushrooms could’ve toned down on seasoning, but did like the wild mushroom burdock noodle for its balance on flavor with smoky feel to it (although Jun was utterly confused why they had to add pieces of soy-based tempeh on top). I didn’t understand what they were trying to do with the spinach spaghetti with broccoli, kale and preserved lemon as the flavor was a bit too overpowering for me, and the texture was somewhat off, but Jun did appreciate the creativity behind the dish. I have to admit, though, that the desserts that we ordered were fantastic. The pavlova with strawberry and rhubarb at ABCV was quite outstanding and I would gladly call it one of the best dessert dishes I’ve had this year. The refreshing sensation from the dish and the textural effect from the combination of different ingredients was quite memorable. Vegan coconut custard with berries was another standout dish that I liked even more for not being overly sweet. The server also handed out chocolate mousse with mint chocolate crumble on the house to apologize for the crudité fiasco, but it was by far the weakest dessert among the three.
Not surprisingly, getting a table at ABCV through the online reservation can be exceptionally challenging, which was actually quite a surprise when I saw that the dining space was never full during the entire course of our meal. If you’re amenable to eating at 5:00 p.m., I suggest you just show up and try your luck at the bar area. The bright dining space looks like its chief mission is to appeal to all the New Yorker girls who want to look at only cute stuffs in the world. There is full bar with cocktails incorporating some elements of vegetable; not surprisingly, the wine list is heavily geared toward organic and natural varieties (another huge turn-off for us). On our way out, Jun succinctly put her experience (and I wholeheartedly agree) this way: “For food alone, this is borderline 8.0. In terms of overall dining experience, I think even 7.5 is a generous score.” Let’s see if these miscues can be fixed over time. Until then, I don’t think I can take ABCV more seriously than just another overhyped dream story for self-righteous locavores out there.
- Creativity: 8.0/10
- Execution: 7.0/10
- Ingredients: 7.5/10
- Flavor: 7.5/10
- Texture: 8.0/10
- Value: 7.5/10
Address: 38 East 19th Street, New York, NY 10003
Telephone: (212) 475-5829