Spring has sprung, and with it comes a brand new seasonal menu from Essen Kitchen. The vegan to-go and delivery spot opened in Over-the-Rhine last November, and ever since has expanded the horizons of what plant-based food can be. Essen unveiled its new menu at a seven-course tasting event at Skeleton Root winery on March 22.
It can be tough to get omnivores to think about plant-based eating in a positive light, but chef Yasel Lòpez has created a new menu of creative dishes that are fun to eat.
People feel skeptical about the vegan word, you know? They go, 'Oh, thats just rabbit food. Thats just a bunch of salads,' Lòpez told CityBeat in November.
So far, hes proved naysayers wrong, crafting a menu that seems better fit for fine dining than delivery. The tasting menu was paired with three of Skeleton Roots wines, which are all made on site with locally grown grapes. Theyre vegan friendly, too: In the wine clarifying process, some wines are fined with animal proteins like casein or gelatin, but Skeleton Roots wines are made with only grapes, yeast and minimal effective sulfites.
Essens new menu includes finely plated dishes like a zesty lemon roasted quinoa salad with cucumber, edamame and edible flowers, a refreshing (and bright fuschia) beet gazpacho and a cilantro, lime and avocado panna cotta with salt baked carrots.
Lòpez, who is from Cuba, also draws inspiration from Caribbean foods. For Essens spring menu, hes cooking up a deep-fried jackfruit version of ropa vieja with jasmine rice and fried plantains and Cuban black bean soup served with chips made from the potato-like yuca root.
Over the course of a few hours, guests at the tasting were served quite literally a rainbow of dishes. Microgreens and herbs make many appearances throughout the menu, but Lòpez also employs the use of naturally vibrant vegetables like beets, tomatoes and carrots and garnishes with edible flowers and caviar-like balsamic pearls.
The bookends of the meal couldnt have been better, either. The night began with bubbly, palate-cleansing mocktails concocted from a variety of Off the Vines citrus juices and a surprise tomato tart appetizer with a cherry tomato confit, basil and balsamic pearls on a flaky, literally fall-apart-in-your-mouth pastry. Dessert was a scoop of strawberry plantain ice cream sandwiched between a dense brownie from Peace Street Bakery and strawberry meringue.
It was hard to believe that some of the ingredients were really vegan, especially in dishes that usually rely so heavily on eggs and dairy products. Lòpez makes ricotta cheese from cashews and uses almond milk panna cotta and ice cream. Aquafabathe liquid resulting from cooking chickpeas in watermakes light, airy meringue that mimics egg whites near-perfectly.
Now that the seasons have officially changed, Essen Kitchen has transitioned to its spring menu full-time, so if you havent made strides to eat more plant-based, now is the time. Essen is open for carryout 11 a.m.- 2 p.m. Monday-Friday and online for delivery on DoorDash.com.
Essen Kitchen, 1 Findlay St., Over-the-Rhine, essenkitchen.com
Photos by Hailey Bollinger