“Wait, this isn’t vegan, right?,” a young woman asks her (I assume) mom while sitting across from her in their two-person booth at Fancy Radish, the newest plant-based restaurant to satiate DC’s growing herbivore community.
“No, it must be just vegetarian, because there’s cheese and stuff. It can’t be vegan,” her mom replies, before biting into the plant-based, fondue-soaked soft pretzel in front of her.
As the mom licks her lips, savoring every last drop of the rutabaga-turned-melted-cheese-like fondue, I find myself having an intense internal debate about whether I should cut into their conversation or not.
As someone who is new to the vegan world, and increasingly more eager to learn about the wonders of plant-based living, I am well aware that not a single item on Fancy Radish’s refreshingly obscure menu is made from animals. However, neither the menu, nor the restaurant’s website, explicitly calls itself out as a vegan establishment. Instead, it uses the term “inventive vegetable cooking.”
I assume this is because “vegan” has become such a potent word, with the power to irk meat and cheese lovers alike with a mere two syllables. I decide to take the plunge, setting aside my fear of social judgement for butting into a stranger’s conversation, for the greater good of helping others understand the deliciousness that animal-free eating can be.
“It’s actually all vegan,” I say, quietly at first. Then, my inner, newly discovered vegan advocate voice speaks up: “Everything on the menu is made from plants. So the fondue cheese is actually made from a vegetable! I know it’s hard to believe because it tastes so flavorful.”
Fancy Radish is named after the signature dish (top photo) at the owners’ award-winning Philadelphia restaurant Vedge, which was named Philadelphia’s number-one restaurant by Zagat in 2014. In an interview with The Philly Inquirer, Kate Jacoby (who co-owns Fancy Radish, along with Vedge, V Street and Wiz Kid in Philadelphia, with her James Beard-nominated chef husband Rich Landau) explained, “The Fancy Radishes [dish] captures perfectly our approach to vegetable cooking: elevating humble vegetables to prove how versatile, inspired and delicious they can be.”
Besides that namesake dish and the abovementioned Rutabaga Fondue with “today’s soft pretzel and yesterday’s pickle,” some other favorites are the Spicy Dan Dan Noodles and the Chermoula Grilled Tofu served with smoked eggplant, pickled carrot, olives and preserved lemon. The kitchen draws inspiration from all over the world: there’s Middle Eastern zhoug (Yemenite hot sauce) and za’atar (hyssop herb blend), Peruvian aji amarillo (yellow pepper sauce), Hungarian potato bread and ramen, to name a few.
For dessert, the Sticky Toffee Pudding is addictively delicious, and the Chamomile Medley tea is pure heaven. (The restaurant also has a drinks menu offering wine, local beers and creative cocktails.) The menu changes frequently, so be sure to ask the staff for their recommendations.
But Fancy Radish so much more than a delicious, artfully plated meat-free meal. This extraordinary restaurant presents a dining experience that speaks to our most compassionate selves, our Jewish heritage and our vision for a better world.
For chef and co-owner Landau, this restaurant is all about the soul and passion behind its dishes. “Growing up in a Reform Jewish household, I learned that cooking [especially meat] has so much to do with soul and flavor… When I became a vegetarian for ethical reasons, I had to teach myself how to cook without meat, because a lot of the things I loved to eat were very carnivorous—for example, corned beef and Jewish deli meats. [Since] I was deeply in tune with great cooking from my grandmothers and mom, I was able to channel their soul [into my cooking].” (By the way, he says they may even start offering Jewish holiday-related foods at certain times of the year, like cauliflower gefilte fish. No promises, though.)
He goes on to explain how eating a diet sans meat can set each of us on a path toward a more compassionate life, where what we eat reflects the Jewish values and history we’ve been taught for so many years. “I learned compassion at a very young age. I couldn’t believe we were slaughtering animals for food, it made no sense.”
As I see it, Fancy Radish is a part of the groundbreaking revolution happening around all of us—one of awakening to the atrocities around us and pushing for peace. Or, as Landau puts it, “We have to start learning not to hate. Until [then], we can’t grow.”
Fancy Radish, 202-675-8341, 600 H Street NE, Washington, DC, Tuesday–Thursday 5–10 pm, Friday–Saturday 5–11 pm, Sunday 5–9 pm. Vegan. Not kosher.
Top photo courtesy of Fancy Radish. Photos within the article courtesy of Allison Friedman.