Restaurant Reviews

Raw, Vegan Edgewater Spot Plant Food + Wine Shows Off Amazing Plant-Based Cooking

Cacio e pepe is a classic Roman dish that includes only pasta with a splash of its cooking water, Pecorino-Romano cheese, and a smattering of black pepper — a flawless combination. You would think it couldn't be improved.

But plant-based über-chef Matthew Kenney does the impossible at his two-and-a-half-month-old Plant Food + Wine. And he pulls it off without a stove. Kelp noodles are lathered in a cashew cream made by pulverizing the crescent-shaped nuts with lemon juice, nutritional yeast, and a hefty dose of black pepper. There's genius in the watercress that flutters across the plate, further cranking up the spice. The naturally occurring glutamate in dried olives is an ingenious substitute for the Pecorino's umami.

Finally, someone is making an effort beyond placing an order for Zak Stern's bread.

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Miami is the fourth location of the 51-year-old Kenney's bustling, plant-based imperium — which also has branches in Maine, California, and Thailand. There are not only restaurants, but also cookbooks, consulting, and a cooking academy.

Here, in the Edgewater neighborhood not far from Wynwood, his sleek space is filled with hefty marble-slab tables framed by thick beams of cherry wood that span the floor and stretch up the walls to the ceiling. The marble creeps into the kitchen, which is oddly devoid of the usual clatter of pots and pans. Instead, your eyes are drawn to a wall of dehydrators that tower above. The dining room spills onto a patio calmed by the pleasant gurgling of an infinity pond.

Kenney began his career as a traditional chef. He opened Matthew's in New York City in 1993, was twice nominated as the James Beard Foundation's rising-star chef, and was crowned a best new chef by Food & Wine magazine. Then success got the better of him. He grew too quickly and had to reset. It was the East Village café Quintessence that set him on a new path: raw veganism. "You felt like you were on the inside of new information," he says. "My dining experience was pretty straightforward, but what attracted me was how amazing I felt after [eating]." And this was back in the early days of veganism, when options didn't stretch beyond glorified crudités.

Today his one-page menu is split into the popular format that includes snacks, small plates, and full-size entrées. It shows how far plant-based, raw cooking has come. Each plate is adorned with a sophisticated balance of textures and flavors that handily rivals or bests most meat-centric dishes.

Kenney's kitchen, led by Horacio Rivadero, formerly of the District and the Dining Room, plies a pleasant spin on toast that swaps bread for little crisps of dehydrated sunflower and chia seeds enriched with fatty walnuts. A rich twang is provided by a smear of macadamia nut ricotta spiked with nutritional yeast and lemon zest. Translucent slices of watermelon radish and pea tendrils add a crisp, refreshing pop. Finally, someone is making an effort beyond placing an order for Zak Stern's bread.

Kimchee dumplings are among the most eye-popping plates. The three dark-green gems arrive folded much like a middle-school fortune teller. Only this isn't loose-leaf. The kitchen juices spinach and coriander and then adds it to a coconut meat paste. The mixture is spread thin and dehydrated for six hours until it's solid but still pliable. The kimchee filling is tinted a gorgeous magenta by purple cabbage. And it has enough flavor and funk to work with Korean barbecue.

Next, take a quick hop across the Pacific and settle into a hearts of palm salad with an aggressively piquant leche de tigre whipped with avocado into a velvety mousse that grabs your mouth and refuses to let go. It's only when you get a bite of minty shiso that your palate is cleared and ready for more.

And though Kenney is among the raw food movement's foremost bishops, he isn't afraid to bend the rules. In the early days, "raw food wasn't heated to above 118 degrees Fahrenheit," he says. "It would be scandalous if your dehydrator was turned up to 125."

Yet here there are no qualms about plunging ivory cauliflower into a hot water bath to soften its florets before they're tossed in a punchy salsa verde with whiffs of cumin and coriander seed. Umami-packed shiitake mushrooms get the same treatment, softening into the meaty little delights you can find folded into mustard greens or bok choy at a good Chinese restaurant. But here, they're placed atop a mound of sesame-plantain quinoa infused with coconut; it's a riff on Brazil's beloved moqueca.

Nearly every dish is a testament to how far plant-based cooking has come. It arrives thanks to Kenney and culinary paragons of perfection such as Michel Bras, whose iconic, ever-changing foraged salad called gargouillou has inspired generations of chefs.

Yet where this kind of food stands today is best explained by a banana split. Between paper-thin dehydrated banana crisps waits a quenelle of chocolate ice "cream." It's made with cacao, cashews, and coconut meat. It's sophisticated and voluptuous enough to rival our dearly departed Hedy Goldsmith's chocolate cremoso. The secret? A slug of avocado providing that fatty, addictive richness.

Plant Food + Wine
105 NE 24th St., Miami; 305-814-5365; Monday through Thursday 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m., Friday and Saturday 11:30 a.m. to midnight, Sunday 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.

  • Watermelon radishes and ricotta, $12
  • Kimchee dumplings, $15
  • Cauliflower with salsa verde, $12
  • Hearts of palm, $16
  • Cacio e pepe, $21
  • Mushroom moqueca, $21
  • Banana split, $14

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Zachary Fagenson became the New Times Broward-Palm Beach restaurant critic in 2012 before taking up the post for Miami in 2014. He also works as a correspondent for Reuters.
Contact: Zachary Fagenson