Friday, July 15, 2011

Nasturtium: a plant genus; an extraordinary dinner; a celebration of vegetables

I've been online acquaintances with Chef Scott Winegard for a while now, after I became obsessed with his gorgeous Tumblr site showcasing his vegan creations, and have been eagerly awaiting a chance to finally get to attend one of the Nasturtium dinners that he puts on with his partner Elena Balletta. It seemed like every time one came up, I was out of town, had some other event already planned, or was otherwise unable to make it. Finally the stars and planets aligned, I made my reservation for last night's dinner, and what followed was nothing short of magic.

Fig. Marmite. Dill.
The six course (seven, if you include what came at the end along with the check) started off with this elegant amuse-bouche consisting of a fresh fig slice atop a marmite sauce with a sprig of fresh dill. I admit I was a little nervous when I saw "marmite" in the description, but the sauce was very subtle. I would have never thought of putting these flavors together, but the combination really woke up our tastebuds and we knew immediately that we were in for an exciting and surprising culinary experience. Plus, fresh figs are simply one of the sexiest ingredients I can think of. The texture, the color... I don't know how else to describe it but to say that the meal was off to a sexy start.

Cucumber. Fennel. Almond. Tarragon.
The second course was this beautiful soup. The picture really doesn't do it justice - a light-colored soup in a white dish in a dark restaurant is hard to photograph - but it was truly a work of art. The broth was very delicate, light and creamy, with bits of cucumber, fennel, and almond adding texture and crunch. I'm not even a big fan in general of cold soups, but this was so refreshing and cleansing that I truly loved it.

Butter lettuce. Watermelon radish. Wax bean. Cherry-herb vinaigrette.

Just look at that salad. I mean, just look at it. Salads really have no business being that gorgeous. I mean, they're just asking for whatever happens to them, going out dressed like that. Really though, this salad was such a color explosion on the plate I literally gasped when it was presented to us. The cherry vinaigrette added just the right hint of sweetness to this crispy, fresh, herbaceous dish.

Green tomato. Chanterelle. Polenta. Fresh chickpea.
Here we've built up to one of the warm entrees. I don't know if I can adequately describe to you how summery fresh this course tasted. The polenta tasted simply like fresh summer corn, ground into a thick puree. This was the polenta to which I will compare all other polentas from now on. The green tomato was lightly grilled and topped with grilled corn kernels, chanterelles (my favorite kind of mushroom), and fresh green chickpeas. It evoked summer days of fresh sweet corn and fried green tomatoes, cooking out on the grill... but in this incredibly modern and new way.

Summer squash. Tomato.
Ok, so the simple menu description of "summer squash, tomato" certainly didn't reveal what a carefully composed plate we were to be presented with. There was a squash/zucchini type of fritter, some pattypan squash, a squash blossom, and a delectable tomato sauce to accompany it all. The aroma was incredible, I just held the plate under my nose for several seconds before diving in. A beautiful showcase of the many ways that summer squash may be enjoyed.

Semolina cake. Roasted peach. Basil ice cream.
And now we've reached the dessert course. I love desserts that are not overly sweet (though truth be told, I love the sweet ones too, who am I kidding?) and this was such a perfect ending to a dazzlingly impressive meal. The semolina cake was soft and just moist enough, and the grilled peach puree (it's hiding on the other side of the cake in the picture) was delicious, but the real revelation for me here was the basil ice cream. It was light, refreshing, and the basil flavor was distinctive without being overwhelming. It was such a delicate balance of flavors, as with all the other dishes, and executed perfectly.  It really ended this meal on just the right note.

Blueberry - Lemon balm.
As if we hadn't been spoiled enough, with the check came these little blueberry jelly candies topped with tiny lemon balm leaves. They reminded me fondly of the p√Ętes de fruits I used to buy in Paris. A perfect little bite to send us away feeling delighted and satisfied from such a well-rounded meal.

It was a real pleasure to finally get to meet Scott in person, and he was as I imagined him to be: warm, welcoming, and genuinely excited to present some spectacular vegan food to us. (Hopefully next time I will get to meet Elena too.) If I didn't get this across in my description of the dishes, let me say this about Scott's & Elena's cooking: this is vegan food at its very best. The entire menu was a showcase of the freshest seasonal ingredients, sourced locally from the farmer's market. This was all real food, no processed or faux ingredients to be found. Each dish was simple, meaning a minimum of ingredients/elements on the plate, but presented so artfully and beautifully that you couldn't help but be dazzled. I truly hope that in the near future we might see a real brick-and-mortar Nasturtium restaurant, of which we will be loyal and devoted regular customers. If you live in New York, keep an eye out for one of the next dinners, they are not to be missed!


  1. FYI - Nasturtium is equal partnership of Scott Winegard and Elena Balletta.

  2. Thank you. I didn't mean to diminish Elena's role in any way, and have edited my post to reflect that the food was created by both of them!

  3. hi, leinana! wish i would have met you last night. thank you for the beautiful review of our meal.

  4. beautiful flavour pairings and imaginative ways to showcase what is in season and local, I cant wait to try...

  5. This looks totally magical! I am going to have to check it out.