Lifestyle

A New Leaf: Vegans Make the Cut

Wolfgang PuckDeathGeorge ClooneyMarilyn Manson

You may question why a vegan such as myself has been dying to dine at Cut. First, it’s like being allowed into the cool people’s hang, what with the giant pictures of George Clooney and Marilyn Manson suspended on the walls. It’s definitely the coolest joint in town, even though the place is nearly all about meat. I have to wonder why they aren’t throwing me out by the ear upon noticing I’m a little too ecstatic about my reservation.

Second, I love a good scene, where food is prepared thoughtfully and with the thrust of art and presentation behind it—by the most celebrated chef I know. Then, too, I’m thinking that being vegan in a steakhouse is downright exciting, sort of like entering into some dark and forbidden fantasy.

That said, I ever so humbly call ahead and ask the famed Wolfgang Puck if he wouldn’t mind preparing a non-animal meal, and lo and behold, he actually seems thrilled by the challenge.

My friend Mitch Glazer (of Great Expectations and Scrooged screenwriting renown) and I are immediately welcomed by the warm, animated and even mischievous Austrian über-chef, as he nods to the challenge of cooking without meat, dairy, eggs or fish. Normally, chefs tend to diss my diet preferences as radical or silly. But Wolf (he says I can call him that!) is a supporter of less cruel farming—no calves confined to crates, no egg-laying hens crammed eight to a small wire cage, no pork from pigs who can’t turn around because they’re held in pens barely larger than their bodies. The man has a heart and seems to be spearheading a culinary preference for humane treatment of farm animals (as in, YES! on Prop. 2). I love him already.

So, Mitch and I sit down to the lightest and freshest gazpacho we’ve ever tasted. The relish of avocados not only accents the bright red tomatoes that are in season through October but provides us with a good bit of protein and a shot of our much needed omegas and essential fatty acids. We are talked into having a glass of 2004 Hirtzberger Riesling Smaragd by learned sommelier Dana (okay, she only recommends it; there’s no real arm twisting, though you should know vegans do indeed drink), because she says the crisp finish of this particular zinfandel isn’t very sweet and just makes you want to take another bite of the vegetables.

When the main course comes and we switch to a glass of 2006 Donabaum Grüner Veltliner (good for the richer, heartier dishes), I nearly start to weep as Wolf shaves a hearty dose of fresh truffles atop a small plate of quattro-cut corn risotto (no rice, just finely ground corn) and chanterelles. Mitch says he would happily eat his laundry with truffles shaved on top, having moved away from his homegrown Miami palate of corned beef and pastrami (though he swears he never partook of the shakers of chicken fat at the local delis).

We are advised to savor each of the four dishes of the tasting quadrant in precise succession so the flavors build on and complement one other. And, oh my, do they build and complement! A rattlesnake-bean puree with romano beans and truffle oil leads us right into crispy fried tempura zucchini flowers with tomato fondue. The momentum of gastronomic pleasure swells, and we nearly barrel into the eggplant, carrot and sweet peas, stir fried with Hunan glaze between bites of pretzel bread with extra rock salt.

We take a breather (and a few more sips of wine), and I ask Mitch where his all-time-favorite place to eat was in his hometown. Hands down, the DuPont Plaza Hotel, he says. “I liked the surf and turf, especially with lobster.”

“But my dear friend,” I plead, “did you realize lobsters mate for life? That they often walk hand in hand, and they use complicated social signals to get along? They flirt, their pregnancies last nine months and some have been known to live beyond 150 years!”

Before he can promise never to eat lobster again, the most divine dessert arrives—mille-feuilles with Elephant Heart plums, Mara des Bois strawberries, coconut cream (no dairy!) and boysenberry sorbet. We are in heaven here in our new beloved hot spot.

QUATTRO CORN “RISOTTO”
Courtesy of Wolfgang Puck

Serves 4
Preparation time: 45 minutes

8 ears corn, shucked
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons water (optional)
2 tablespoons extravirgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, smashed
2 sprigs thyme
3 ounces chanterelle mushrooms
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 ounce white truffles

Grate 6 ears corn on medium-hole cheese grater. Place corn in saucepan along with salt and pepper. Heat slowly on low for about 10 minutes. As the corn cooks, it will thicken to a loose risotto consistency (if it gets too thick, add a tablespoon or two of the water). Remove from stove and set aside.

Cut corn from cobs of remaining 2 ears of corn. In large sauté pan over high heat, add oil. Once oil is hot, add garlic, thyme and corn kernels. Season with salt and pepper. When corn is caramelized to a golden brown, add chanterelles. Sauté 5 more minutes. Add parsely.

Divide corn risotto evenly onto 4 plates. Top with the corn-chanterelle mixture and a shaving of white truffles.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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Wolfgang PuckDeathGeorge ClooneyMarilyn Manson
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