The news came at the height of heirloom tomato season, and now that root vegetables prepare to make their move, what better time to spread the word with the Menus of Change community: A decidedly plant-centric restaurant has taken the coveted spot of America’s Number 1 new restaurant in 2015.
That is, according to Bon Appétit’s annual “Hot 10” list, an exhaustive search by deputy editor Andrew Knowlton across hundreds of restaurants nationwide for the most inspiring flavors to be had right now. The victor is an understated restaurant called AL’s Place, headed by Chef Aaron London, formerly of Napa Valley’s Ubuntu, which was America’s first vegetarian restaurant to earn a Michelin star. London’s menu, which can be enjoyed à la carte or prix fixe family style, consists of “snackles,” “cold/cool,” and “warm/hot” sections—which are nearly entirely plants—along with a variety of animal proteins offered as sides.
One standout from Knowlton’s meal was a fava mayo accompanying a grilled mushroom dish. Referring to his visit as a whole, he writes: “The intensity of flavors was revelatory. It was almost as though I’d been eating vegetables in black and white my whole life, and then suddenly everything was in Technicolor.”
What’s more, Number 4 on Knowlton’s list was claimed by 18-seat Brooklyn restaurant Semilla, which offers a 10-course tasting menu where animal proteins only appear as condiments. Bon Appétit described it as a place where “every vegetable gets a chance to be front and center.”
In the 2015 Menus of Change Annual Report, the issue brief on “Chefs’ Influence on Consumer Attitudes” noted the past year’s remarkable wave of restaurants focused on plants, and vegetables in particular. Bon Appétit’s validation of such restaurants leads toward greater recognition of the immense creative potential of vegetables among chefs and consumers alike.
The award helps accelerate a shift in cultural norms related to plant-based eating. From London to Pamela Yung and José Ramírez-Ruizof Semilla, a long line of chefs is luring throngs of diners to dishes that may just so happen to not involve meat—or may involve meat as garnish or in a supporting role—but not because of ideological or health reasons. Instead, they accomplish this through their reputation and the boundary-pushing culinary experiences they offer guests. Efforts like these exert significant influence on consumers’ perceptions of value when considering plant-based dishes, and attitudes toward plant-based dining overall.
As this news suggests, the floodgates are now open for chefs to think produce first—and leverage the power of plants in not just delicious, but “revelatory” ways.