Monday, June 17, 2013

When you're at a Crossroads in life.......

I was recently at a Crossroads in life, and I know I'm not alone. Many people on different occasions find themselves at a Crossroads in life, where difficult decisions must be made and sometimes the advice of others cannot be relied upon. .......And sometimes, you may literally find yourselves at Crossroads (Kitchen), a new vegan restaurant in West Hollywood, where the menu offers such great options that it proves nearly impossible to make a decision about exactly what to order. Furthermore, it is best not to rely on your server's recommendations when deciding between two dishes, because they may well have different taste preferences than you. Ha....haha, see what I did there......? With the word crossroads.....? Yeah, I know, I'm really mature. Anyways, such was the case a couple of weeks ago. I was celebrating the birthday of one of my dearest friends and he chose Crossroads Kitchen as the place to celebrate! Neither of us had been there before but we both had been eyeing it for awhile, so this was the perfect occasion.
The Background: Crossroads Kitchen is a slightly upscale (but not remotely snobby) Mediterranean Vegan Restaurant with a great atmosphere and fantastic location. It was started by famous vegan Chef Tal Ronnen, who amongst many other things has served as Oprah Winfrey's private chef, has catered the wedding of Ellen DeGeneres & Portia De Rossi, and even catered the first Vegan Dinner at the U.S. Senate. He has also worked at many of the top vegan restaurants in the country and has published a cookbook that was on the Epicurious: Best Cookbooks of 2009 list.
Also found this on their website,
it's even better in person and when it's filled with people!
The Ambiance/Decor: The space was formerly occupied by Philippe Chow, and before that it was an italian restaurant called Dolce. The decor is wonderful, it's a perfect harmony of luxe meets modern meets rustic hipster. The lighting is perfect, some may consider it on the more dimly lit side, but it sets a great mood in the restaurant. It's full of people and has a warm, welcoming buzz; just enough to where you can tell it's an exciting, social atmosphere but not so much that you can't hear yourself think. The set-up of the tables somehow manages to make you feel as though you have all the privacy in the world despite the fact that the tabels are just as close as they would be at any other restaurant; maybe its the simple little lamps on each table, or maybe it's the plush seating, but from the moment you sit down you feel comfortable and at ease.
The Service: The service was pretty good. We were greeted by a welcoming, smiling hostess who didn't even mention that we were 15 minutes late for our reservation as she led us to our seats. The waitress came out very soon after to bring us water and introduce herself. She gave us some time to look over the menu, and came back to tell us the specials and get our orders. The only small complaint I have is that I ordered a salad with the dressing on the side, and I asked her if that was okay, and she said "definitely" but the salad came out already dressed. I didn't want to make a big deal out of it since it really isn't a big deal, so I didn't point it out to her, but that was oh-so-slightly disappointing Other than that small blip, she was perfectly attentive without being annoying; I honestly can't remember if she came by to see how our food was, but suffice it to say that the thought never crossed my mind "Hey, I've got something I would like to order or ask for, but haven't seen our waitress," she always came by at the perfect time.
Found this cool picture of their cocktails online......yum!
Cost: For such a great location, and a somewhat upscale restaurant, the prices are astonishingly affordable. For the two of us we ordered a total of 3 small plates, 2 entrees, and a "cheese" platter (which came with artisanal toasts, jam, and raisins), and it came out to $60 before tax & tip. If memory serves me correctly, all of the salads, soups, and small plates (both hot and cold) range somwhere from $5-$14 with most of them falling at $6 or $8. The larger entrees are between $12-$14, and the specials are priced similarly. Cocktails are $15 each, and the wines and bears are reasonably priced as well. Crossroads proves you don't need to empty your bank account in order to have a wonderful dining experience in an awesome setting and location.
Lentil Flatbreads with 3 Spreads
The Food: 
- Lentil Flatbread with 3 seasonal spreads: This is basically freshly made (still warm) lentil flatbreads/pitas that come with hummus, leek pate, and tomato braised banana peppers. The bread was warm and fluffy, and it smelled amazing. My friend ordered this so I only tried a bit of the tomato-banana pepper dip and it was awesome!
Pickled Veg
- Housemade Pickled Vegetables: These were so good! It sounds simply, but the vegetables are pickled so well, and they're not your typical pickles. There were whole white carrots, a couple of different types of radishes, cucumbers, and onions. They were pickled just enough so that the flavor of the individual vegetables still shines through, but the pickling itself has definitely done it's job.
Spring Chopped Salad
- Spring Chopped Salad: This salad had pea tendrils, celery leaf, parsley leaf, english peas, watermelon radish, and a whole grain mustard vinaigrette. Anyone who knows me knows I love salads and this one was awesome. I know you're thinking "Come on was just an average starter salad, how good could it have been?" Well let me tell you, really good! I hate to be a drama queen but this salad was so good that it actually eclipsed my entree, which was pretty darn good (more on that later). The salad, although simple, blew my mind on a small level. I have actually never had fresh english peas prepared in this way, and they were surprisingly hearty and had a great bite to them. The watermelon radish was also another awesome part of the salad, they added a great kick as well as an excellent contrasting flavor. The celery and parsley leaf balanced it out, and the dressing itself was excellent, very light and it brought out the flavors of the components of the salad.
- Scaloppini with Marsala Glazed Morel Mushrooms: This is the entree my friend ordered. I didn't try any because I was to busy being obsessed with my entree, but it looked and smelled awesome. He absolutely loved it and finished every last bite. He is an omnivore, but he couldn't stop talking about how great the scaloppini was, and he even wanted to try to re-create it at home........which actually isn't that crazy considering he's an amazing, classically trained chef who attended the CIA. Wait what?! A legit chef ate at a vegan restaurant and liked it? Yep.....that happened. The only complaint about the dish is that for a $14 dish, it was on the small side. Normally scaloppini is served with some sauteed spinach, roasted potatoes, or at least some steamed veggies...but this one came with nothing. However, the serving size is only a minor setback, because I honestly would love to order this when I return to Crossroads. Not only did it smell and look delicious, but I cannot for the life of my figure out how to get all the sand out of morel mushrooms when I'm cooking them at home. Somehow restaurant chefs always know how to do it, so it'd be nice to eat some morels without feeling like I just took a bite out of the beach.
- Cassoulet: This dish is what I ordered as my entree. It has du puy lentils, wild mushrooms, english peas, carrots, leeks, and grilled spring onions, but this description does not do the dish justice. It really was SO delicious It was hearty and comforting without being too heavy. The english peas and carrots were cooked perfectly (not too soft, not too hard) and the grilled onions and leeks were also an amazing addition. The brightness of the grilled onions & leeks pairs perfectly with the unctuous, hearty, and dare I say meaty lentils and mushrooms. I almost ordered this dish a second time.....but I didn't because we still had more food coming.
- Kite Hill Cheese Plate: This is basically a classic cheese plate that you might order at any fancy french restaurant, except that everything is vegan. However, throw out your notions of weird, fake tasting soy cheese or oddly textured tapioca shreds.....this is actual cheese. Kite Hill is the brand of cheese that Tal Ronnen himself has started making, and it is even being sold in the fancy cheese section of some Whole Foods with the other artisanal cheese. What sets this cheese apart from the other vegan cheeses is that he actually makes it like a cheese.
Kite Hill Cheese Plate
Cheese is made when you process dairy (often by merely precipitating out the curd using an enzyme or acid), add some sort of bacteria/funghi culture (which vary depending on what type of cheese you're making), and age it. Tal Ronnen does the exact same thing but instead of using dairy, he uses almonds. I'm pretty sure what they do is blanch and puree the almonds, and then proceed as you would with any dairy product, but I can't be entirely sure. Anyways, sorry for that ridiculous food science tangent, but the end result is fantastic! Three unique cheese, served with delicious raspberry jam (I usually hate raspberries........what?), raisin-walnut crostini, roasted almonds, and raisins still on the vine! This cheese platter was so good and so unique! We paired every cheese with all of the accompaniments in every possible way, and everything was awesome......even the cheese by itself was awesome. I'm not going to lie, two of the cheese tasted almost exactly the same, but they both tasted good, so it wasn't really a problem. I would definitely order this plate again!
Overall Review: A fantastic restaurant, and dare I say......hotspot? The food is cooked and presented with care, and it tastes even better than it looks if that's possible. There is something for everyone on this menu, from the Meaty Lasagna to the Kale-Spinach Spanakopita to the Crab Cakes, and everything in between. All of the gluten free items are labeled and they are plentiful. I myself am a vegan and I came here with an Omnivore (and amazing, classically trained chef) and we both loved it; we both definitely want to go back soon! Even if you don't care about the food and just want to go somewhere with a great atmosphere, this is the spot; not only will you love the atmosphere but once you taste the food you'll forget it's vegan and the only thing you'll remember is that it's beautiful, comforting, and delicious. 

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