I am, generally speaking, no great lover of radishes. The exact reason why is an enduring mystery—chalk it up to some childhood culinary trauma, perhaps, or to genetics. It makes sense, then, that I was skeptical at first of celebrated chef-restauranteurs Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby’s newest offering, a completely vegan outfit in H Street Corridor named — drumroll, please — Fancy Radish.
Still, I couldn’t help but be intrigued. Landau and Jacoby’s two Philadelphia locations, Vedge and V Street, rank among the most exciting plant-based restaurants in the country, and both members of the duo have been nominated for the prestigious James Beard culinary award.
I’m no longer a vegan, but plants — and affiliated foods, like the humble mushroom — are still the cornerstone of my diet, and there are few that I don’t like. In that regard, radishes, along with cauliflower and iceberg lettuce, are part of an exclusive club. That said, I’m nothing if not an adventurer, and in the spirit of thrill-seeking, I figured I’d give Fancy Radish a shot.
I should start by noting that Fancy Radish is, indeed, quite fancy. The restaurant’s interior was elegant but subdued, tastefully adorned with both small shrubs and larger plants. My only concern was the lighting—the weak glow provided by the candles didn’t make for an excellent photo of my entrée.
And the food? I ordered the restaurant’s titular $14 dish, “Fancy Radishes,” and suffice to say that I’m a convert. Suffice also to say that I have never seen so many different types of radishes in my life. My long-standing aversion to the root vegetable, I’m embarrassed to admit, has left some significant gaps in my knowledge, and I could identify, at most, one or two of the varieties on my plate — Google was instructive in this case.
I poked gingerly at the concoction—a diverse assemblage of radishes, cucumber and pickled tofu served on a bed of crushed avocado with the East Asian citrus fruit yuzu and garnished with shiso leaf—before diving in. The dish was, in a word, spectacular. The flavor profile was at once bold and balanced, a testament to the possibilities of vegetable cooking. It was also beautiful, dappled with reds, greens, purples and pinks.
Two conclusions seem appropriate. The first, and for me the more surprising one, is that radishes can be wonderful. Too often they’re thrown into dishes where they don’t fit, or where their taste is overpowering, at least for the radish-sensitive diner like myself.
But there is a second option, which dovetails nicely with takeaway number two: Vegetables can do more. Tellingly, Landau and Jacoby don’t refer to their ventures as vegan or vegetarian restaurants. Landau himself, in a recent The Washington Post interview, noted that vegetarian restaurants are about limitations rather than possibilities. He prefers to define his offerings in terms of what they do, rather than what they don’t—it’s about plant power, so to speak, rather than meatless menus. Perhaps I should consider a name change.