We made our way to the secret location and were surprised to find that the space comfortably seats over 30 attendees. Thoughtlessly choosing the first table we saw, our boisterous greeting of self-introduction was unceremoniously ignored by the group of five already seated, so we quietly moved to another table where the diners at the other end returned our tentative smiles.
Shortly after we settled in, two gentlemen entered the room, made their way over to the seats directly across from us, cordially introduced themselves, and initiated conversation. Despite our previous error in judgment, we were lucky enough to have ultimately hit the dining companion jackpot with the charming Daniel, a longtime vegetarian and cooking enthusiast, and affable Phillip, a flexitarian open to all kinds of vegetarian and vegan adventure. Culinary conversation immediately ensued, and restaurant recommendations flew excitedly between us. The evening was a success and the meal hadn't even started!
Take a look at the mouth-watering menu we were anticipating as we chatted:
At some point one of the ladies at the table joined our conversation and I wound up innocuously asking if her group of four was vegan, a seemingly wholly appropriate inquiry at a vegan supper club. The unexpected answer, accompanied by animated pointing, was, "She is, she isn't, and the two of us are almost vegans; we only eat eggs from a CSA!" In response to my
And just like that, my serene 4CV experience was abruptly halted.
Admittedly, my first instinct was to see just how wide a net this 'almost' qualifier cast by checking under the table to see if the egg-eating almost vegans were wearing leather shoes. But, VM-ingrained couth prevented me from doing so. My second instinct was to get super-specific by asking if they were otherwise vigilant about not eating eggs in any form, from chickens without human-designated names. A combination of fury, confusion, and restraint prevented me from pointedly articulating this inquiry with any immediacy.
So instead, I hesitated. The experience was a gift for my mom and I didn't think she should have to point out, during her Mother's day celebration, that I am not the knowledgeable and articulate Joshua Katcher and am therefore ill-equipped to address such a situation with his stunning charm, panache...and composition. Yes, this is a point she makes often (and you're lucky for that, lady theater-goer who drapes her deplorable animal pelt over the back of her chair so that it nauseatingly hovers inches above my vegan knees). But there was no escaping my incredulity at the 'almost vegan' explanation, so I could not resist revisiting the issue with genuine interest and gravity.
I turned back to the nearest , self-described, almost vegan and earnestly asked, "So, why do you choose to call yourself vegan and not vegetarian?" Without pause (or thought, or embarrassment), she looked at me as though it was my question that was absurd, and not her justification: responding with an implied 'duh', "Because I eat, like, 95% vegan!"
Whether the effervescent Daniel had heard and/or had the opportunity to digest the severity of my disgust during the course of this exchange, or if it was merely a coincidence; I do not know. But before I could outline the definitive mainstays of veganism, he valiantly swooped in with the light-hearted quip, "I guess you're an ovo-vegan, then." Ah, levity. I
let out an unattractive guffaw laughed out loud and, calmed, turned back towards our group of actuals. Having considered the timely ovo remark an unequivocal point for our side of the table and a signal that I should continue to enjoy my evening, that was the extent of our interaction with the other end. I cannot stress enough how important it is to situate yourself amongst allies! When attending 4CV, my advice is to keep a look out for your very own Phillip and Daniel for optimum evening enjoyment.
Onto the meal!
Disclaimer: my culinary aptitude cannot begin to do justice to the flavors, textures, and incredible ingredient combinations that constituted each of these phenomenal dishes.
The first plate we were presented with consisted of two Cashew Cheese Turnip Raviolis with basil (not cilantro!) pesto and black sesame seeds. I was initially disappointed because I thought this meant that the farmer's market had failed Chef Matteo and this was taking the place of the dal. It turned out that this was merely an amuse bouche, as opposed to the "bonus course" I dubbed it when the dal arrived as promised. In my unsophisticated defense, it's been my experience that an amuse bouche is usually minuscule; this dish was not. Crisp "noodles" filled with dense, creamy, nut cheese: this was a refreshing start to the meal.
The first course, the French Lentil Dal with Seared Okra and Roasted Garlic Raita, was nothing like I imagined it would be, delicious in an entirely different way than expected. Mildly spiced, it was served as a soup rather than a traditional dal. I've never eaten raita, but this version was cool and creamy: a perfect compliment. I don't normally like okra, but the thick stalks were as tender and sweet as asparagus. One minor disappointment was that dish contained sneaky bits of cilantro, but I managed to overcome them by still enjoying every drop.
Golden Beetroot Tikka Masala with Fava Beans and Toasted Cumin Dressing was next, a sweet and delectable second course. The dish was bursting with a melange of ingredients I can't even begin to list and decorated with the crispest, freshest (and most gorgeous) fava beans I've every tasted. This was VM's favorite course.
The third course was a Puffed Millet Croquette with Minted Pea Salad and Tamarind Chutney. This was the spiciest dish of the evening, and my unequivocal favorite (thus far). Happily, it seemed to grow in size as I ate it, and although I was already stuffed I could not resist consuming every tasty bite.
It would be an accurate description to say that during the course of the evening I enjoyed each dish incrementally more than the previous one served. As such, this dessert lover can attest that the fourth course, the Dark Chocolate Mousse Tart with Tri-Star Strawberries and Chai Spices, concluded the meal on the absolute highest note that could possibly have been expected after the exquisite plates that had preceded. Thick, smooth, rich, dark chocolate packed into a divinely nutty crust; the pungent chai spices paired with what I believe was an agave drizzle and the sweetest strawberries that even I, hater of fruit desserts, couldn't bring myself to disregard.
Although the gorgeous and equally palatable dishes were the obvious stars of the evening, I would be remiss not to specifically mention the extraordinarily talented Chef Matteo at the helm (and everywhere else). The mastermind behind every detail of the meal and experience from beginning to end, he is so mild-mannered and unassuming that you can't help but focus on the food, forgetting the man behind the curtain, er, kitchen.
Besides conceiving of and preparing every dish, he delivers and clears each course in a stealth and unobtrusive manner, while still managing to acknowledge every compliment: which tends to number at least one per person, per dish. He also doesn't hesitate to answer any questions about ingredients, preparation, etc., even though many attendees (myself included) simply choose to relish the meal rather than analyze it. More accurately, it's easy to get so caught up in the evening that you simply overlook the enormous logistics, concentrating only on consumption.
Without a doubt, I HIGHLY recommend 4 Course Vegan for a one-of-a-kind vegan dining experience, the likes of which I've never encountered. It was terrific for our special occasion, but be forewarned that you'll leave tempted to return regularly to see what Chef Matteo can create. The best (and worst) thing about the experience is that the weekly menu doesn't repeat and there is no cookbook, leaving you with no choice but to appreciate each Saturday meal as the stroke of genius that it is, as it's happening.
Our sincerest gratitude to the hosts, Chef Matteo and tiny Winston, as well as our entertaining dining companions and new friends: Daniel and Phillip.