The 2015 award for “Best Place to Take Your Friend Who is Seriously Skeptical of Vegetarian Food” goes to: Wassail.
The best part about Wassail’s vegetarian status? It’s not a thing; it just is. The fact that the menu is vegetarian is just one of many excellent reasons to visit this Lower East Side spot. This subtle tack has served husband-and-wife team Jennifer Lim and Ben Sandler well at their excellent The Queens Kickshaw in Astoria (which is also very much worth the trip).
And they’ve imported plenty of their friendly community vibe from Queens to the Lower East Side. This extends from their support for paid sick leave and a higher minimum wage for their employees to a serious focus on local sourcing, foraging and composting leftovers through Reclaimed Organics. There is a party-up-front, business-in-the-back situation going on with a lively bar scene in the fore, and a restaurant holding it down in the aft.
Chef Joseph Buenconsejo’s modern cuisine plays up vegetables and grains and plays off Wassail’s incredible selection of fermented hard cider. Of the 12 ciders on draft, more than half are locally made. Stop by now to try refreshing green strawberry gazpacho ($13), garnished with cucumber granita and green almonds, before local strawberry season passes by.
The cider focus is cool, the cuisine is bright and inventive, but it’s pastry chef Rebecca Eichenbaum’s vegetable-driven desserts that really left our heads spinning. Her vegetal desserts combine leaves, blossoms, stems and roots and atypical ingredients like knotweed, buckwheat and sorrel for surprising and delicious results.
She’s sourcing rye from the Regional Grains Project and sprouting it in-house, using cider lees (spent yeast) in her freshly baked breads and working with the sustainability-focused Raaka chocolate from Brooklyn. We loved the chocolate ganache with sassafras ice cream in a housemade kombucha moat, as well as the airy frozen spruce soufflé with pistachio and yogurt granita ($10 each).
“I try to celebrate the plant’s essence,” Eichenbaum explains. “When I think about using a specific part of a plant, I look at folk recipes, herbal remedies, etymology, and symbolism. I consider the compounds that give them their flavor, their botanical characteristics, what they’re related to, and what may compliment them.” Sounds pretty sweet to us.