Why did the vegan cross Melrose Avenue? To get to Crossroads Kitchen! In fact, a lot of people seem to be crossing over to get a table at Crossroads. One bite from their 100 percent vegan lasagna layered with creamy almond milk ricotta and you’ll understand the buzz. The newly opened Melrose restaurant resets and recalibrates plant-based cuisine, furthering the upward trend of meatless living. LA’s vegan restaurants have certainly been pioneers in obliterating archaic stereotypes of hippies chewing down ground grains and berries. Still yet, Crossroads exploits what a seasoned foodie might currently expect from a vegan restaurant, creating a fine dining concept unlike any in the city.
With our own preconceived notions dancing through our heads, we slid across a plush red banquette into one of the multiple booths in the large main dining room. Low lighting and a meeting of contemporary and traditional décor resembles a classic chophouse, and makes for a sexy Saturday night date spot.
We couldn't wait for one of the cocktails from award-winning mixologist, Gaston Martinez. Floral and herbs envelop a litany of spirits offered at the only fully stocked bar at a vegan restaurant in Los Angeles. The bar seats 11 guests beneath old-fashioned glasswork, reflecting the white pearl finished beer taps. I went for the Melrose Mule, finding a unique tangy twist from a banana pepper garnish. Victor opted for a sumptuous Pinot Noir — Lyric by Etude from Santa Barbara, CA — each sip smoother than its predecessor. The chef’s side of the equation soon took center stage, however.
The cuisine at Crossroads is creatively imagined by Chef Tal Ronnen. He enters the LA foodie tornado of restaurants with a storied resume. His book, “The Conscious Cook,” a New York Times bestseller, has garnered celebrity recognition from such fans as Oprah Winfrey, Ellen DeGeneres, and Steve Wynn. Furthermore, Le Cordon Bleu campuses nationwide request his presence, conducting workshops with students and staff, all wanting to learn Chef Tal’s process. “I was already a vegetarian, so it [veganism] seemed like the next natural step … recreating food that I ate before I was vegan, focusing on Mediterranean flavors,” said Chef Tal.
We’ve closely been following the rising bar of meatless marvels and raw feats in Los Angeles. The parboiled Kale Salad with pine nuts, currants and lemon-thyme vinaigrette pleasantly exceeded expectations. The Caramelized Leek and Cauliflower Bisque topped with fried capers was a first-rate imitation of any cream-based soup. And as far as we’re concerned, Lentil Flatbread is the new pita. The flatbread came accompanied by seasonal spreads like leek pâté, smoked white bean hummus and the true standout, tangy tomato braised banana peppers.
With 25 years of experience in the kitchen, Executive Chef Scot Jones’ specialty in Northern Italian cuisine sets the bar especially high when helping to conceptualize Crossroads’ menu. As Chef Tal mentions, “We have regular meetings to work on specials and to keep our menu true to each season by using local and fresh ingredients. When recipe testing, sometimes you hit it the first time, and sometimes it takes two to three times. Working with Chef Scot makes it easier because of his many years of experience cooking Mediterranean food; he knows what it [should] taste like.”
And we happily concur—small plates of familiars such as Kale Spanakopita, pleased our palates with flaky, virgin olive oil-based filo dough. The spinach and almond cream stuffed tortellini tasted just as delicious as its non-vegan pasta counterpart; no doubt in part to Chef Jones’ Italian background and pasta-rolling expertise. The absence of dairy at the table did not surprise, although, the risks taken by pastry Chef Serafina Magnussen during dessert, did. The gooey Chocolate Bundt Cake with Dows Port Colheita wowed as the Panna Cotta’s creamy nut-based custard mystified.
An open-aired Wine Room — hosting cocktails, dinner or private parties — resembled Tuscan living, full of visual delights. The wine Victor enjoyed only gleaned the tip of the iceberg at Crossroads. A thoughtful wine list compiled by Wine Director Jennifer Delcham sourced only biodynamic, sustainable and organic Old World labels, providing guests over 70 different wines to enjoy. The tiled walls fitted with wine racks set the perfect stage. Overall, Crossroads proved a delicious and stylish conduit over to the vegan side.