turning 27 at vedge in philadelpha


Everyone knows that surviving another year (happy birthday!) earns you dinner, at the very least. And if you're in a particularly celebratory mood, that dinner should be at a significantly more-festive-than-usual location, which Vedge in Philadelphia manages to deliver with a seemingly effortless air. Self-described as a "vegetable restaurant" these folks avoid the words "vegan" or "vegetarian" (though Vedge is both) in order to "raise the bar for vegetable cuisine" as well as remain appealing to omnivores and carnivores, too. It's got mood-ish lighting, not so dark that you aren't sure what you're eating, but the intensely flavorful food also lends a hand in this department: make no mistake, as they're serving up fresh, seasonal ingredients, it is evident from the second each delicately crafted plate reaches your table.

And so you might think: a vegetarian dinner in December (December 2nd, to be obvious and specific..!)? What's around, cabbage? A few straggling squash from the previous fall months? Please. Each plate, all relatively small and/or considered a tasting size, is more colorful and inventive than the last.

We started our dinner with three extra-small plates for the table to share: since we had a table of two, there was plenty of pickled curry cauliflower (amazing), u-peel lupini beans with piri piri (also known as the African bird chili) and fried garlic (after watching me struggle to cut the shell off of each tiny bean, our waitress kindly advised me that simply biting it would do the trick much easier--so good food and a non-fussy atmosphere. I can dig that.) and mixed green olives with fennel and preserved lemon to go around. Let me know if that's not the longest sentence you've ever read about appetizers.

Next from the Vedge bar, we went with salt-roasted golden beets paired with the amazing combination of avocado, smoked tofu, super-salty capers, rye toast and creamy cucumber dill sauce. You can watch head chef Rich Landau talk up this specific dish here, around 2:32. But trust me, the whole segment is worth drooling over. Unique Eats, indeed!

We also went with the sweet potato paté (I mean, do I really need to explain why?) with grain mustard and jerk cashews. It tasted like a super-sophisticated peanut butter sandwich and when our waitress asked if we wanted more paté bread, the answer was an obvious ummm, yeah. Though we could have definitely finished it off with just a spoon.

For our entrées (yep, still hungry), we eagerly awaited the carrots cooked shawarma-style.  Though shawarma preparation can vary greatly by country, it's also typically a way of preparing meat street food dishes. The key connection here is the cook time, which is very long and slow, bringing out all the depths of flavor from the carrots, so thoroughly sweetened they were much closer to a yam, even in texture, and balanced beautifully with the black lentils, garbanzos and tomato-olive stew.

We also had (I KNOW) the fresh hearts of palm, one of the weirdest but one of my favorite veggies which quite literally comes from the center bud of certain palm varieties. I love a good meal where I have to Google half of the ingredients to know what I'm getting myself into. Seriously. Though I'm no newbie to hearts of palm, this preparation is the best I've had to date. Stuffed inside a delicate buckwheat crepe and swimming in a saffron-cauliflower broth, it was just light enough to go with the two additional sides we ordered.

That's right.

And they were: roasted Romanesco broccoli (check out how beautiful and non-food-like it looks raw) with shaved Brussels sprouts and frisée, and, the potato dish to end all others, smashed fingerling fries with creamy worcestershire sauce.

Listen. Listen here. A potato is a potato, I know, but there has never been a fingerling or a spud or a what have you that could hold a candle, no, a tea light, to these particular beauties. I mean it. The sauce? Creamy without a speck of actual cream. What words could I use but WOWZA and CAN I HAVE A DOZEN MORE. EVERY DAY. FOR LIFE. Insanely incredible, even the next morning, eaten out of the refrigerator, cold.

So by now you must be thinking, while all that stuff sounds superb, obviously you haven't thought this meal entirely through: you saved no room for dessert, which everyone knows is the most important part. Well don't be silly. Of course we did. Because what, I ask you, is a birthday dinner without dessert? Though choosing just one (okay, two) feels like an impossible feat, we somehow managed to settle on the chocolate über chunk and the apple cider doughnuts.

Now, anything with the claim "über" in the description is obviously something serious. We don't just throw that word around like it means nothing. In fact, it's a wholly made up slang description (in English, anyhow) just to make sure you know how over the top something actually is. Which is pretty evident when you see the words peanut-pretzel-crust, malt-custard and stout-ice-cream: this dessert isn't messing around. Also, let's get something out in the open here: I like chocolate but I don't necessarily swoon over it in all forms. There is such a thing as "too chocolatey" to me, which most devout lovers would deem blasphemous. I get that. So I'm always a little wary of something that comes out of the kitchen looking all deeply chocolate, gleaming and threatening me with its richness. But this concoction, this total babe of a dessert, was quite honestly one of the best things, dinner or dessert, that I've ever had in my life. First things first, vegan-schmegan because this thing tasted legit. Have you ever had vegan ice cream or custard and then realized holy what-the, this doesn't have a drop of dairy in it at all? Completely incredible. Although we got these two sweet treats to share, I had a tough time swapping plates when it came time.

 That, of course, was before I tasted the apple cider doughnuts. Now, I'm not new to the apple cider doughnut scene. If there was an insider membership or a frequent punch card for this particular breed of doughnut, I'd be a lifer. Queen ACD, if it was available. These particular beignet-sized ones, however, totally changed the game. Sweet, but not too sweet, filled with a tangy cranberry sauce, accompanied with an apple cider shooter (come on, who doesn't like a little bit of cute on their birthday?) and a horseradish cream sauce, they were ... I'm sorry, what's that? You'd like me to back up and explain the horseradish bit? Well, I'd love to, except that I can't. It was crazy unexpected, completely unconventional, and yet? It worked. It worked like horseradish has never worked before.

So the year of being 27 started with eating very, very well. And while I don't have any particular plans for how the rest of the year ought to go, I can be sure that there will be more where that came from, I'm more than certain.

And of course, what would a birthday be without a real, traditional birthday (cup)cake? This particular espresso brownie version (via Instagram, and clearly 27 is also the year I get past my super-chocolate hesitation) from House of Cupcakes in Princeton, NJ.

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