Monday, July 19, 2010

Dining at 4 Course Vegan with Vegetarians, Flexitarians, and Ovo-Vegans (!?)

Though a Brooklyn native, it is not easy to get VM to return.  It would seem that you can take the girl outta Brooklyn, but you can't necessarily lead her back.  Unless, of course, you gift her with a homemade Mother's Day gift certificate for 4 Course Vegan, the infamous underground supper club in Williamsburg; then you've got her attention.

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 quizzical horrified facial expression, the almost vegans clarified by sharing a cliquey giggle and exclaiming conspiratorially, "...from chickens with names!"

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. 


  1. First off, this food and supper club sounds phenom! I go to a weekly vegan supper club party here in LA and it is great food and company.

    Secondly, I am so glad you posted about the "ovo vegan" tablemates.

    I am right now at a crux with how I describe my diet.

    I used to be similar to your table mate but within the last couple months, I have stopped eating eggs and wearing leather.

    My initial gut reaction was to be hesitant to call myself vegan in case I am doing something I know people take classifications so seriously. Case in point: I used to hate when people who ate seafood called themselves vegetarians. Does that make sense?

    But many of my friends in the vegan community have told me they think it is okay for me to call myself a vegan and actually encourage it because a lot of my readers are not vegan and they like my less militant more foodie approach to veganism.

    Would love your insight on this.

  2. Greenie, of course you make sense; fish are not vegetables! Likewise, eggs are not vegan.

    While there are some people who choose to simply follow a vegan diet, I believe that being an ethical vegan encompasses a whole lifestyle... and neither should be eating eggs. This isn't extremism, more like truth in labeling. I’ve heard the complaints that such serious classifications scare people away from veganism, but that’s a cop-out; compassion cannot be bullied out of you.

    The impetus of the vegan movement has nothing to gain by watering down definitions in order to attract a wider audience. If the best someone can do is to go vegetarian, then they should have at it; every little bit helps. But if they continue to eat fish then their choice to utilize a non-applicable label serves no purpose other than to make one person feel better about them self, while countless animals continue to suffer as a result of their actions.

  3. P.S. I'm super jealous of your weekly supper club. Try out 4CV next time you're in town!

  4. Love your insight! You make a great point in there is a difference between being a vegan namely for food purposes and approaching veganism from an ethical standpoint. This article below totally illustrates the difference-it's a doozy!

    The more I think about it, because my decisions to give up meat and dairy were not solely because of health but also because of compassion reasons-I support a number of animal rights causes and am active in the vegan community in LA-I think I am okay with calling myself a vegan :)

    Glad you wrote this post because I have been feeling a little conflicted in terms of what I call myself...I am the first to say that categories are not always productive but since, some things will always hold categories, I might as well put mine to good use :)

    Yes the weekly dinner parties in LA are really fun...each week has a different culinary theme. coming up is raw vegan breakfast treats and then soul food!!!

  5. Wow, that article is, um, well, proof that all kinds of people can be flaky! I guess she tallied up how many animals she's saved & figured she was owed one? So gross!

    You sound like a proud, informed, compassionate person; wave that vegan flag & spread the word!

  6. I recently went to 4CV for the first time myself, and holy mole, it is so good! If I lived in NYC full time, I think I'd go as frequently as possible, (i.e. every week!).

    As for the tag of *almost* vegan, I apply it to myself, because I eat local honey and use beeswax products (allergies and rashy skin and a selfish and unabating addiction)...Having weighed the cost and benefits, this is my personal choice. I also wear wool and leather bought from thrift and vintage stores, or that I bought long before I shut down the cognitive dissonance that allowed me to not want to eat a cow, but still think of leather shoes as some how disconnected from their bovine source. Why would I throw something perfectly good away so that I can buy something new that was made with materials that I am comfortable with? Then I'd be perpetuating behaviors that disturb me as much as the inhumane treatment of animals...But, I know that there are a lot of people in the vegan community who would disagree with these choices. And, that's fine with me. I think we all have to figure out how to make our ethics work within our lives.

    All that said, eggs from chickens with names are still eggs. And as Bess said, fish are not vegetables! Being a vegetarian is a pretty decent compromise, or at least a promising first step, why not own it as one's own rather than adopting another (perhaps seemingly) more desirable title?

  7. Hi Ariel,
    Thank you for joining the conversation.

    Honey remains in the grey area of veganism (I do not partake), but I have found that through trial, error, and research you can find a vegan substitution for just about anything.

    I would like to suggest that you absolutely acknowledge the connection between leather and it's source: bovine or otherwise. I understand that it is not cost effective for new vegans to immediately discard all of their animal-based belongings and replace with compassionate choices, but I would like to point out that there are animal-friendly options to be found at thrift stores, as well. Additionally, please consider that when you purchase pre-owned leather and wool items, you are thereby forcing those who believe that such contents are the mark of superior quality to purchase a new item instead, thus perpetuating the continued production and demand for animal products.

    For the record, transitioning to a fully vegan lifestyle, as you seem to be, is far different in my book than justifying the continued consumption of eggs. And, while I'd be thrilled for the world to be vegan, vegetarianism is a noble start; I couldn't agree more with your closing line.

    That said, I would like to go on record as saying that "Fish are not vegetables!" is actually my quote. Bess is compassionate, witty and intelligent, but I must claim "ownership" b/c it is one of my favorite and most oft-utilized quips ;-).

  8. I laughed out loud as I read your description of your dinner with the "almost vegans." I can picture myself in that situation.

    I've met many "AVs," and I usually let them describe themselves thus without getting too upset. They seem to recognize the "almost" descriptor excludes them from the title "vegan," and I like to think they see being vegan as a goal, and they are "almost" there.

    I'm much more troubled by the vegetarians who eat fish. After delicately, and then more blatantly (fish is not a vegetable), calling out a "fish-eating vegetarian" in-law, I finally got him to see he wasn't a vegetarian. If he aspires to be a vegetarian, he needs to see that eating fish prevents him from being what he says he wants to be.

    The food looks fantastic, and reminds me of a small restaurant here called Sutra, that offers a similarly changing, exquisite four-course vegan menu with local, organic food. I'd go every week but for the cost.


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