When looking back at the progression of vegan cuisine, there are distinct milestones that mark its spectacular evolution: the opening of San Francisco’s Millennium restaurant in 1994, with chef Eric Tucker elevating meat-free cooking to a level never before seen; the national expansion of Whole Foods Market in the mid-eighties, bringing vegan food to the masses; and the exponential growth of vegan cookbooks throughout the past decade, showing home cooks everywhere how easy and delicious cooking without meat and dairy can be. Combined with the glowing mainstream media exposure generated by fashionable restaurants like New York City’s Candle 79, Fort Lauderdale’s Sublime, and Philadelphia’s Vedge, the world has finally caught a glimpse of how gorgeous, flavorful, and satisfying vegan food is. But with nearly every major city across the United States having a fine-dining establishment where vegetables take center stage, Los Angeleans for years have longed for one of their own. Finally, this March, celebrity chef and cookbook author Tal Ronnen gave the city what it’s been asking for in Crossroads Kitchen—a chic, sophisticated eatery in the heart of West Hollywood where celebrities and politicians rub elbows with urbanites and activists over superb food and wine.
Crossroads is not your everyday vegan restaurant. The walls aren’t painted a lime green, there are no bamboo planter boxes or new age music filling the background, and the “v” word is no where to be found—anywhere. The name “Crossroads” was chosen as an ode to where Ronnen sees vegan cooking in 2013: finally taking its place as a respected form of cuisine in the culinary world, and one that’s being celebrated as much by non-vegetarians as it is by vegetarians. And with the über-talented Scot Jones (formerly of Chrissie Hynde’s Vegiterranean in Akron, Ohio) at the helm as executive chef—along with an all-star partner/investor/architectural/design team (entertainment mogul Steve Bing and musicians Moby and Travis Barker to name a few), Crossroads has rapidly become the darling of the Los Angeles dining scene.
The menu at Crossroads is comprised of Mediterranean-inspired small plates—which Ronnen feels is the best way for food to be enjoyed. This way, guests are able to try a variety of dishes for the same price as an entrée at other restaurants. Europeans have told us for years that it’s the first few bites of food when flavors are most pleasurable; after three or four forkfuls, our taste buds become desensitized to even the most complex dish. After being stuck with an entrée-size portion of a meal I’m not crazy about or simply satisfied after just a few bites and eyeing other dishes at the table, I feel this way of eating is healthier and far more gratifying.
So let’s talk about the food. Cream of fava bean and English pea soup drizzled with an almond Greek yogurt, housemade flat bread with pistachio-kalamata tapenade and spicy roasted cauliflower, artichoke oysters with kelp caviar and a golden-tomato Bernaise sauce, and almond cheese-filled tortelloni with oven-dried tomatoes and spinach cream. Remember, you can try all of it. If you’re craving something a touch more extravagant, don’t miss the Scaloppini with Marsala-Glazed Morel Mushrooms or the buttery Risotto Del Giorno. Just like much of the vegetable-based cuisine from the Mediterranean region, many of the dishes are naturally gluten-free and don’t include typical vegetarian staples like tofu, tempeh, or seitan. Ronnen wouldn’t have it any other way, and feels this is the best way to market vegetarian cuisine to meat-eating diners.
The menu changes daily based on seasonal produce (and in Southern California, the array never disappoints), but signature dishes like the kale salad (a mountain of shaved kale with toasted pine nuts and currants in a lemon-thyme vinaigrette) and kale spanakopita (layers of phyllo with sautéed kale and a harissa-spiced tomato fondue drizzled with mint oil) are mainstays. And for good reason—they’re extraordinary, especially when savored in just a few, perfect bites.
The exceptional cuisine at Crossroads is matched only by the luxurious—and downright sexy—décor. Outfitted by award-winning design firm, LA-based Studio Collective, think deep banquettes, ebony floors, hand-crafted chandeliers, unpholstered wing-backed chairs, wood crown-molding, subtle lighting, and an 11-seat antique glasswork bar where Ellen DeGeneres is rumored to regularly meet up with friends. A private dining room is ideal for intimate special-occasion gatherings, and is decorated with antique mirrors and a wall display of the restaurant’s most interesting wines. I have no doubt the movers and shakers of the entertainment industry will be spending a fair amount of time in these lavish quarters.
Of course, no meal would be complete without a perfect dessert, and Crossroads has brought in pastry chef Serafina Magnusson (dessert developer for Ronnen’s New York Times’ best-seller, The Conscious Cook) to dazzle sweet afficionados no matter what their culinary preferences. The LA food media is mesmerized by Magnusson’s citrus panna cotta with caramel and ginger-walnut biscotti as well as her cannoli filled with sweet almond ricotta and candied kalamata olives. Ice creams and sorbets are made in-house, and a chocolate finale always graces the menu (the chocolate bundt cake with chocolate bourbon sauce is heavenly).
Crossroads is more than a restaurant—it’s a work of art that has been flawlessly fine-tuned by some of the best artists in the restaurant world. It’s a place where meat-eater and vegetarian labels are left at the door, and the food is defined not by what’s missing but what it is. In 2013, vegetarianism is indeed at a crossroads, but there may be no better place in the country right now showcasing the range, depth, and appeal that is vegetarian cuisine.