Chef Lenka Zivkovic’s Vegan Tasting Menu at The Plough & The Stars
One thing is very clear when talking with chef Lenka Zivkovic about her plant based menu at Philadelphia’s The Plough & Stars – there is a tremendous amount of passion and heart in her creations! Her food is not only delicious and beautiful, but she also places a lot of focus on the healthful and pure.
While vegan food is considered to be better for you, the Rock and Roll Vegetarian has found that even at some of the best restaurants the focus on taste doesn’t always extend to healthy preparation. Chef Zivkovic goes beyond simple taste and sprouts her own beans, makes her own nut milks to avoid carrageenan, and avoids agave syrup too, among other wise health choices. She also focuses on raw foods as much as possible.
I brought my lovely dining partner with me to try her multi course tasting menu, which she puts together in Philadelphia’s The Plough and The Stars in Old City. Although there are many great places to eat in this neighborhood, there is not much focus on vegan foods, let alone vegetarian. Hopefully this will help in that regard.
We started off with a nice Irish whiskey and then we went to soup. The roasted cauliflower soup was rich and creamy, and thickened with a potato, which in the African bush, where dairy isn’t common, I learned to use in my cream soups. Often a cauliflower soup is a little boring and bland, but not here. The flavors had a real depth, due in part to the roasting of the cauliflower as part of the preparation, and a paprika infused olive oil lightly drizzled on the top. A few green scallions added a nice crunchy punch.
Next came two salads. An arugula salad was topped with pecans, fresh orange segments and shaved fennel, great for a spring evening. Even better was the “Two Hearts Parfait” with hearts of palm, avocado and papaya. I could have this daily, but only if everything in it was as super fresh and perfectly ripe as it was here.
Third course was a trio of main courses. The grilled polenta was brown, and topped with a sprouted lentil and walnut pate. Chef Zivkovic explained the reason the polenta cake had that color to us – she made the polenta with a several layered broth that included the water the lentils were steamed in. This added to the depth of flavor and the polenta cake was both crispy and delicious.
There was a nice texture to the quinoa and buckwheat patty, which sat on some steamed asparagus with two large drops of a creamy sauce, reminiscent of mayonnaise, yet still vegan. On top was an artichoke presented like a flower.
Most interesting for me of the trio was the orecchiette pasta dish. Beets were turned into chorizo! Along with sun dried tomatoes and spinach these made for a unique dish. We talked with the chef about the beet “chorizo”. She dehydrated the beets instead of frying them, again going for a healthy preparation. They really tasted like chorizo if I can remember correctly. Note – the entire meal can be gluten free if you let them know – she will substitute the pasta for a GF option.
Dessert featured two cheesecakes, a chocolate raspberry and a key lime style, and a coconut creme brûlée. All were creamy and full of flavor. The desserts were made from raw ingredients, including her own nut milks and surprisingly even spinach juice was used in the key lime dessert (one would never know) which was used as a coloring agent – beautiful! I have been a creme brûlée aficionado for as far back as I can remember. Chef Zivkovic’s creme brûlée was luscious with a crispy burnt raw sugar top crust. Honestly we liked all the desserts equally! You can’t go wrong here.
Does that sound like a big meal? Yes, very. Delicious? Yes, totally. Big thanks to The Plough and the Stars for hosting this great event. Another reason to love this Irish bar.