Under the twinkling trees and against the rustle of climbing ivy, we perused the wine list. Our fingers faltered over a lovely 2013 Preston Petite Sirah (Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County, CA) that was so nice we ordered it twice.
From day one, at the top of the Santa Monica Mall, Plant Food and Wine has been serving these Kimchi Dumpling ($16). Dehydrated cilantro and coconut skins folded over a soft paste of fermented kimchee, cashews, tahini, and ginger. The plate is finished with dollops of ginger and sesame milk foam, micro greens, and a twirling flick of red cabbage puree thinned out with kimchi juice. While the name implies heat, there is none to be found in these tender—almost sweet—bites now served in a non-mall atmosphere befitting of the price point.
Two Chinese-style folded rounds of sweet white bread with a tacky glazed finish make up The Steamed Buns ($14). The fluffy bread is folded around A: Smoked tofu, napa cabbage, and pickled chili with a miso mustard; B: Oyster mushrooms, scallions, and pickled cucumber with a cashew hoisen glaze. I can see how these complex yet delicate flavors made their way to the menu. But priced at $7 a piece, I also understand why they are no longer there.
Though the Cashew Raclette ($14) does not remotely resemble the gooey lava flow of a traditional raclette, the warm cultured cashew creme, glazed in tart brine, melts into the crevasses of the wholesome bread and is easy to share among friends. Served with grilled slices of Lodge Bread, petite gherkins, and a radish-parsley garnish that drives this dish further from it’s name and deeper into likability.
A man bun of marinated kelp noodles slick with black pepper cashew cream, slivers of sweet snap peas, and delicate curls of pea tendrils make up the Cacio e Pepe ($21). A swath of pea puree lays base under the sandy sprinkle of crisp, oil-cured, olives and pink arugula flowers.
A hardier dish for warmer weather, the Butternut Squash Gnocchi with Farro Bolognese ($24) offers carbs dressed in delicate micro greens and arugula flower. Tender potato dumplings melt into a creamy butternut squash sauce that no one will walk away hungry from.
Yes this is a whole serving of the Apple Pie with Caramel Ice Cream a la mode ($12). That’s not meant as a jab, I’m just stating fact. The raw halfpipe of pastry shell is layered with sweet and tart peeled apples with cinnamon, caramel sauce, and a quenelle of rapidly melting ice cream. I’ve repeatedly lamented the state of vegan desserts in restaurants but can say that at least this one is making an effort to be interesting.
To wind down the wine we shared a Turmeric Latte with frothy house-made almond milk laced with ginger.
While overall the dishes at Plant Food and Wine were quite good, at the end of the evening prices gore everyone’s bank account. While food quality and knife skills are what we’ve been groomed to believe we are buying, what one actually buys at Plant Food and Wine—and at any fancy high end restaurant—is status. The right to see and be seen sitting here, high in the corner booth, cocooned by twinkling lights and fluttering olive leaves on one of America’s most exclusive streets. We are the ones who have made it. Who through hard work and moxy—but mostly blind luck and inheritance—get to congratulate ourselves on making the good choices in life.
Plant Food and Wine
1009 Abbot Kinney Blvd
Venice, CA 90291