o, horizons, mother of them all. for years you have nourished the people of philadelphia with true culinary vegan genius. you have given the naysayers of vegetarian dining a miso marinated middle finger, a delicately pan seared F U. you have given our taste buds a magic carpet ride, you have put a joyful song in our hearts and bellies.
last week, to celebrate our friend halimah's new found freedom from employment (and the inauguration of our very special 44th president), we made a reservation for 4 in the food womb. let us amend our ode above: horizons, while a spectacular vegan dining experience, is not perfect. the artwork on the walls is laughably bad and the service, while totally acceptable, is a little overbearing. we were waited on by no less than 4 people, which always kind of rubs me the wrong way; one server + busser seems like plenty. fancier restaurants always seem to want to pile the workers on your table, and why? anyway, we're not writing this post to critique the ambiance or waitstaff. we're writing to talk about food!
the booze: i arrived half an hour earlier than the rest and sat at the bar and read a wondrous book. i ordered a bottle of sprecher bavarian black lager, which was dark, smooth and malty, the perfect pint for a ten degree january evening. when the girls arrived and we were seated, halimah promptly ordered a martini straight up with olives and the rest of us decided on a $28 bottle of red. i forget what it was called, but it was from france! it was sort of a one-note pony, but that note was mild and juicy and nothing to complain about. it also sported a charming label, never a bad thing:
sipping our spirits by the soft candlelight, we came to the group consensus to order the chef's tasting menu: a 5 course, $45 per person parade of delights. can you argue with 5 courses? no.
first up: a winter vegetable bouillabaisse with a roasted red pepper pesto crouton. it was a charming soup, with a one-of-each selection of small, tender vegetables in a hearty, but refined, tomato broth. the stand out for me was the single, buttery, elegant brussel sprout, floating in the bowl like an emerald.
the second course was a wild mushroom crepe topped with a golden beet tartare and seaweed caviar. it sat in a nice truffle cream dotted with sharp parsley puree. the crepe itself had a right-on texture, just the right amount of spongy. the flavors were well balanced and the caviar was (according to the lone diner who has tasted the fish egg variety) eerily similar to the "real" thing. as a second course goes, it was a tempered medium of rich flavors without being too heavy.
third course was a riff on mock scallops: pan seared tofu rounds on a creamy hearts of palm risotto, with pesto and kalamata olives. the texture of the tofu was lovely (though really like a scallop? probably not), and the risotto was nicely cooked. however, the pesto was terribly over salted and invaded the entirety of the dish. i guzzled the remainder of my second glass of wine just to help it go down easier. while not ruined per se, the dish was disappointing to me for this reason. the others at the table agreed that their portions were also salted with too heavy a hand. this is a bummer because i've never had anything but righteously seasoned food at horizons and this was the first dish to deviate from that winning streak. nevertheless, we cleaned our respective plates. this is what they looked like before:
lauren here, taking over for the last two courses (you know i had to review the desserts!). our fourth course would fall under the label as 'entree' as it were. it consisted of grilled seitan with smoky eggplant over braised black beluga lentils with a grain mustard sauce. as much as i hate to talk smack on the best/only vegan gourmet restaurant in the city, much like the pesto topped pan seared tofu, this dish was sorely over salted. while the seitan had a beautiful texture and a solid grilled flavor, the smoky eggplant was nowhere to be found and the black lentils tasted more like black beans. the whole shebang was topped with an "avocado taco" which was really just a tortilla chip with a dollop of guac. i didn't really understand where this fit in with the rest of the dish, except i suppose it complemented the black bean-like lentils, but i don't think those were even supposed to taste like black beans in the first place. weird, BUT, still damn edible and the mustard sauce really rounded out the seitan nicely. once again, no plates went uncleaned:
as our plates were cleared, we wondered aloud, "how can we possibly eat dessert?" let me just say first and foremost, i love dessert. (when i was little, i pretty much had a problem, a sugar problem. at a picnic once, i asked my mom when i could have dessert and she sternly told me to finish my lunch. "but mom, the cookies are calling me!" - if that's any indication.) however, i usually don't eat dessert when i'm out to dinner because i'm just too full. at home, dessert - a square of fancy chocolate, a cookie, a few bites of ice cream - is eaten a half hour to an hour after dinner, once the dishes have been done, the leftovers put away, the wine bottle emptied and the party moved to the living room couch. it's then that i've had enough time to digest and need to satisfy that one little tiny space in my stomach saying "sugar. sugarrrr!" however, at our chef's tasting, a mere eight to ten minutes passed before our dessert platter arrived. yes, i said platter:
left to right: coconut cheesecake, cinnamon ice cream, peanut butter bomb chocolate cake. sighhhh. the little sliver of coconut cheesecake was a silky creamy consistency and touted a not-to-sweet coconutiness. the tiniest mini melon ball sized scoop of ice cream was delicately spiced, and the icy texture was a nice respite from most overly fatty store bought brands. what really took the cake (ha!) was the pb bomb cake. i would say it was the bomb, but i can only fit so many puns in. it was a moist, dense chocolate cake topped with peanut butter mousse and the whole thing was dipped in chocolate, dusted with crushed peanuts and drizzled with more chocolate! whew. this was a pretty decent size piece of cake and was very decadent. i would have been totally fine if this was the only dessert they had brought, and probably a bit less painfully full as well.
we sat and finished the wine, our used napkins thrown in like towels after a particularly rigorous boxing match, and talked until the rest of the dining room was empty. we toasted halimah and her generosity. she thanked us for coming with her, and we thanked her for not using her gift card for four solo visits instead of bringing us along. i don't know the next time we'll be back to the food womb, but i do know that each and every time i emerge a reborn vegan.