It’s a curious thing about the meals you remember. Some are memorable for all the wrong reasons—lackluster service, under- or overcooked entrées, obnoxiously noisy dining rooms.
Then there are meals such as those I enjoyed at Vedge, the relative Center City newcomer that has quickly earned a reputation for being the city’s finest vegan restaurant. The last half of that statement is unfair, however, because Vedge’s eminence—as others before me have suggested—should not be measured solely in the context of restaurants that serve no animal-based fare.
In short, my two trips to Vedge for this review delivered two of the best dining experiences I have had in recent memory.
Vedge, even though it’s barely a year old, has some history in the Philadelphia dining scene. Many local vegans and vegetarians (and, yes, even some omnivores) shuddered upon hearing that Vedge’s Queen Village-area predecessor, Horizons, was closing its doors. But when husband-and-wife team Richard Landau and Kate Jacoby announced the arrival of Vedge, any fears were quickly allayed. With Vedge, Landau and Jacoby have created something very special, dare I say novel, though certainly not in the novelty sense.
Beginning with the preamble of fresh bread and accompaniment of garlic, parsley and chervil-infused olive oil, each of the small-plate courses was bright and intensely flavorful, building to a satisfying crescendo.
The pickled peel-and-eat lupini beans were a delightfully garlicky and briny bowlful, while wood-grilled sweet potato pâté was smoky and faintly sweet. Although a slice or two more of the excellent brown bread would have been appreciated, the pâté and its piquant sides of grain mustard and diced cashews were a masterful combination. The grilled seitan with black lentils was hefty and juicy enough to make me forget I wasn’t eating cuts of a perfectly cooked filet.
Perhaps most memorable were the portabella carpaccio and Brussels sprouts. The portabella, finely sliced and served with pickled cabbage and celery leaf, was reminiscent of something served from the heart of a Jewish deli—corned beef, suggested one dining companion—though much lighter: simple, comforting and, in a word, delicious. It seems like an odd thing to suggest, but the Brussels sprouts—a tart, creamy slaw that seemed to get better with each forkful—might have provided the meal’s most satisfying highlight.
Even the dishes that were less memorable were remarkable. Hearts of palm and pan-seared tofu, served in a delicate crêpe, could have arrived a few degrees warmer, which is a quibble because the dish sang with the gentle yet unmistakable flavor of curry. A tower of golden beet and avocado, meanwhile, offered notes both earthy and vibrant, forcing me more than once to close my eyes and consider the unusual pairing I had just tasted.
The presentation of each dish was well thought out, served on an array of elegant stone slabs and cutting boards. Each dish, in fact, was as artful and unpretentious as the layout and décor of this Locust Street charmer—its dining room dimly lit without being moody, the atmosphere festive without being raucous.
Then there was the service, which was attentive and confident.
On my second trip to Vedge, I asked our waiter to recommend something from the desserts menu, and he brought a trio of “ice creams,” as well as a chocolate pot de crème. The ice creams—creamy coffee and the more sorbet-like watermelon and strawberry—were wonderfully light and flavorful, while the chocolate pot de crème tasted better than the finest mousse, just the right balance of richness and texture, paired perfectly with the tart yet juicy raspberries.
It’s not often that one discovers a restaurant seemingly without flaws—or if not flawless then so seamless in its execution and delivery that even the most minor of imperfections is noticeable. Furthermore, not that this was Landau and Jacoby’s intention, but Vedge makes you forget you’re eating vegetables and/or nonmeat protein; they make vegetables, in a word, exciting.
It might come as no surprise to hear that I would not hesitate to dine at Vedge again, as anyone else should want to as well—even if one does prefer steak over salad, clams casino over oyster mushrooms, roasted chicken over roasted squash.
1221 Locust Street
Web: www. www.vedgerestaurant.com
Photograph by Douglas Bovitt