Truth be told, I didn’t intend to review Beefsteak this week. I was heading to the Whole Foods in Foggy Bottom when, as underfed and overworked college students often do, I found myself craving a quick bite. On this particular evening, I was in luck: Right next to Whole Foods was the vegetable-centric brainchild of famed chef José Andrés, Beefsteak.
For those who follow the food industry, Andrés needs no introduction. The Spanish-American chef, who was featured in Time Magazine’s 2018 list of the world’s 100 most influential people and won the James Beard Foundation’s Outstanding Chef award in 2018, is something of a culinary superstar.
Andrés is also a committed social reformer: Following the earthquake that devastated Haiti in 2010, Andrés founded World Central Kitchen, a nonprofit dedicated to crafting smart solutions to the problems of hunger and malnutrition.
In 2015, after contentious remarks by President Donald Trump about immigrants, Andrés scrapped plans to open a restaurant in the Trump Hotel. Then, when the Trump Organization sued him, he stood his ground — and sued them back.
Finally, in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in 2017, Andrés and his affiliated organizations were again at the forefront of hunger relief efforts, at one point serving more than 150,000 meals daily.
In classic Andrés fashion, Beefsteak is a bold new concept: In the restaurant’s own words, it offers “America’s bounty in a bowl.” On the face, Beefsteak is not wholly unlike a Chipotle or any of the other create-your-own-style fast-casual franchises that have popped up in recent years.
Beefsteak also has something more — the labor of love of a highly celebrated, Michelin-starred chef. Beefsteak even grows its own herbs: In the back, there’s a bookshelf-type indoor garden that provides all the restaurant’s parsley, basil and cilantro.
Patron can even the elevated ambiance in the decor. The restaurant’s interior is a beautiful, delicately organized space, though a little impractical in some regards — a few of the tables are dimly lit, and some are too small to eat at.
The walls of the restaurant are adorned with cartoon-style illustrations of tomatoes and other vegetables, and the ambience is warm and elegant. The serving counter feels vaguely cafeteria-like but not austere or impersonal in the slightest — rather, quite the opposite. Even the restaurant’s wide, curved bowls were beautiful.
The best word to describe it is fantastic. I settled on the Beet Poke, a Japanese-inspired warm veggie bowl. The mainstay of the $7.99 dish was sesame-marinated cubed beets, served over rice and accompanied by scallions, diced cucumber and seaweed. I opted to throw in mozzarella with the base entree for an additional $2 and added Sriracha for a kick of spice.
The dish was visually impressive: The beets were an intense, deep purple and the contrast provided by the varied hues of the cucumber, scallions and seaweed made for a handsome display. However, the entree was more than an aesthetic feat. The sesame marinade tempered and moderated the vegetable’s natural bitter, earthy aftertaste; the seaweed salad and scallions provided a vibrant contrast to the sweetness of the beets and sesame.
Yet the dish was not particularly elaborate: The entire thing was assembled in a couple of seconds by the server. Still, that is exactly what makes Beefsteak so special. It’s a bold, veggie-driven vision for the future of fast-casual dining.
I’ll admit that, at first glance, Beefsteak didn’t seem quite so exciting. I’ve been let down before by plenty of plant-based restaurants that are generally both flavorless and overpriced. I’d bet few people look forward to a meal composed of beets, scallions, seaweed and rice. Somehow, though, Beefsteak makes it a meal worth craving.
Prashant Desai is a junior in the School of Foreign Service. MEATLESS MENUS appears in print every other Friday.