Editors' Note: On this page in our November 2014 issue we published a review of Gadarene Swine. We are sorry to report that this excellent restaurant has closed its doors. They will be missed.
R: Lucky Valleyites can now take joy that The Gadarene Swine, a most unique vegan restaurant, has made the San Fernando Valley its home. Opened in early September 2014 on Ventura Boulevard in Studio City, the innovative eatery stands apart in every way, from its unusual name, to the uniquely crafted all-vegetable menu, to the elaborate presentations, and finally its uncommon table setting.
Z: Even the attractive brick and shingle exterior is unique with its angular shape that meanders in multi directions. Ultra appealing from the outside is the warm lighting and swagged drapes one can see from the street. Those alluring touches give the impression of a cozy and homey dining spot.
R: Once we were inside, Megan, the cordial server, escorted us to our table. In an instant we recognized this evening was going to be an exceptional dining adventure--and it surely was!
Z: The thick, wooden tables wear a glossy finish and make the perfect backdrop for the thick, oval, 15-inch-long slices of tree trunk used as novel "plates." Set atop these wooden planks, the menus, attractively printed on imitation parchment, were peeking out from the black napkin, fork, and knife that were laid horizontally across the menu. Chic original style!
R: The menu features little plates for sharing and offers an unabashed abundance of vegetables--a joy to see--but we knew we needed some suggestions from Megan to help us make our dinner selections. She was impressively knowledgeable about every ingredient in every dish and guided us to some awesome choices. Megan informed us that although the menu is vegan-focused, it does list one dish, Olive Stuffed Olives, that's flavored with honey.
Z: We chose Roasted Garlic and Fresh Thyme Popcorn, Crisp Yucca, Roasted Mushrooms with Burnt Sweet Potato, Vegetables in a Box, and Blackened Cauliflower. We also ordered Bottled Water our server poured into tall Mason-jar glasses.
R: As we waited for our food, we had a few minutes to enjoy the appealing, softy-lit ambience. Though the space is not large, the high ceiling with richly hued wooden lattice, open L-shaped bar, and small tables gave the room a spacious, yet comfortable feel.
Z: Megan set our first course, Roasted Garlic and Fresh Thyme Popcorn on the table and encouraged to use the wooden planks as dishes. The popcorn was heaping over the tiny, khaki-colored, handcrafted ceramic "bowl." The plump popped kernels were delightfully seasoned with a good hit of garlic and hints of thyme, one of our favorite herbs.
R: Our dishes thankfully arrived one at a time, giving us the opportunity to fully savor the exceptional flavors and enjoy the presentations. Each dish arrived in an unusual serving piece of hand-made ceramic. Next came the well-stacked Crisp Yucca nearly spilling over the rough-hewn ceramic container.
Z: While only minimal ingredients for each dish are listed on the menu, a unique medley of complex flavors goes into every creation and promises to offer the taste buds a robust taste experience. The bite-size chunks of crisp-fried yucca were brimming with tangy, sweet, and savory flavors from the chimichurri sauce slathered over the crunchy yucca. Drizzled over the top were ribbons of bright green avocado mousse and long slivers of bright red pickled onions.
R: It felt a little odd to take a serving of yucca and put it on the wooden plank in front of me. It didn't take long before I got the hang of it, though. Vegetables in a Box came next, and what a singular dish it is! Sitting in the middle of a ceramic platter was a little box, about 3 inches in diameter, formed from fried Yukon Gold potatoes. The box was nesting on a bed of charred Japanese eggplant puree.
Z: Nestled inside this cute little box was a celebration of vegetables bathed in a glistening sauce flavored with lemon juice and white wine. The featured veggies included angle-sliced asparagus, peas, carrots, potatoes, and shimeiji mushrooms. I was surprised this tiny little potato box could hold such an ample serving.
R: Alana, another friendly server, placed the next selection on the table. Sitting at the bottom of a deep bowl with a black interior were the Roasted Mushrooms with Burnt Sweet Potato, another dish of amazing flavor complexity. The sweet potato puree was flavored and spiced with brown sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon, and maple syrup and provided the perfect bed for the maitake mushrooms, along with a ragout of grape tomatoes, English peas, and shimeji mushrooms. The finishing touches of dehydrated pea tendrils and roasted seaweed added yet another avenue of savory flavor.
Z: After devouring the Roasted Mushrooms, we decided to add one more dish to our dining experience and settled on Blackened Cauliflower, which turned out to be our favorite choice. Arranged over a bed of savory white cauliflower puree were florets of blackened purple, green, and white cauliflower, along with dehydrated white cauliflower. The dish was beautifully garnished with julienne slivers of red pickled onions and coarsely chopped toasted pistachios. It was a wildly seasoned creation of tangy, salty, and indulgently rich flavors.
R: We thank Chef Phillip Frankland Lee for the unique menu concept of serving an entire menu of vegetable dishes. This chef is passionate about vegetables and aims to change the way people look at food. Although Chef Phillip offers a completely vegan menu, he doesn't call his restaurant vegan. Rather he hopes the exciting plant-based creations will appeal to vegans, vegetarians and non-vegetarians. With the exception of one menu selection offering hummus and another listing dirty rice, there were no bean or grain-based items offered.
Z: We know about the chef's other restaurant, Scratch Bar in Beverly Hills, which is not vegan, and wondered what sparked the idea for this casual-chic vegan dining spot. While at his other restaurant, he was asked if he could create a vegetarian menu and took on the task with success. He then wondered if he could assemble a tasty plant-based menu and discovered he enjoyed the challenge and the pleasing result.
R: That was one of the sparks that led to opening The Gadarene Swine. The chef also wanted to offer a healthy menu of nutritionally focused vegetables. We couldn't help wondering about the unusual name and found the perfect explanation at the bottom of the menu. "The Gadarene Swine Fallacy is the fallacy of supposing that because a group is in the right formation, it is necessarily on the right course, and conversely, of supposing that because an individual has strayed from the group and isn't in formation, that he is off course. The individual may seem lost to the group but not off course to an ideal observer."
Z: The restaurant's name is a touch of brilliance and would definitely seem out of place for what is normally expected of a vegan restaurant. It truly may lead some vegans off course, but not those who observe more closely and realize it's only a clever play on words.
R: In addition to the 14 outstanding little plates, Chef Phillip offers a special 10-course Tasting Menu at $85 he personally prepares and serves at the attractive L-shaped bar. Reservations are a must for the Tasting Menu. Chef Phillip plans to introduce new dishes to the menu gradually as the season's offerings spark his creative spirit.
Z: Because our meal was so satisfying, we planned to return for dessert. Awaiting us on the next visit are two specialties: Tres Leches Cake and Pear Pie. The cake, for those unfamiliar with Tres Leches, is a traditional Mexican cake made with three kinds of milk. Chef Phillip has chosen almond milk, hemp milk and coconut cream and serves the cake with pickled orange granita and orange cotton candy.
R: The Pear Pie consists of a braised pear garnished with a brown sugar streusel and served with coconut cream ice cream finished with pecans, cinnamon, and nutmeg.
Z: Those who enjoy outdoor dining will find the small patio facing the street a delightful, intimate spot to enjoy their meal. The final presentation was our check that arrived standing upright in a tiny, round ceramic bowl. Prices range from $3 to $19.
R: We were taken with the gracious staff that was well trained and well informed about the menu and the detailed, complex preparations of each item. Though The Gadarene Swine is not an everyday sort of restaurant, it does offer a delightful dining experience for a romantic date night, celebrating special occasions, and introducing exceptional vegan dining to out-of-towners.
The Gadarene Swine
Reviewed November 2014