If you’re a regular reader of the blog, you may be aware that we visited a lovely little hamlet on the West Coast of the United States called “Los Angeles.” You may have heard of it—it’s a magical place where it’s always sunny, the rest of the world’s work day is at least halfway done by the time you wake up, and everyone’s weirdly nice—’tis a magical land.We’ve written in this space previously about how very vegan-friendly we found the city when we were there (you can read the rest of our LA Week posts if you need to catch up), but one of our culinary highlights was an early trip to the new, luxurious, small plate Mediterranean-style restaurant, Crossroads. Founded by celebrated chef and author of The Conscious Cook, Tal Ronnen, the space boasts an impressive, dark-wood-laden dining room, hand-crafted chandeliers, a wine room with a retractable roof for open air dining, and, in case visitors weren’t already impressed, an original Toulouse-Lautrec. So, yeah.
Needless to say, we enjoyed our experience at Crossroads. We partook in some superbly done botanically inspired libations; we lost ourselves in conversation as we took in the truly enchanting space; we even caught a glimpse of Ellen Degeneres + Portia de Rossi on their way from the private dining room in the back. Above all though, the food was rightfully the star of the night.
There’s no denying that we’re spoiled with a wealth of options as vegans in New York City. Trust us, we know—we just got back from western Pennsylvania, where every salad comes with pepperoni for some reason + one place we visited served a burger between two grilled cheese sandwiches. Really. But one thing we often find with our local vegan fine dining in NYC is that these establishments, while wonderful, get comfortably set in their ways with their menus + overall approaches to dining and food in general. Visiting Crossroads, this fact was thrown into stark contrast by a series of inventive, delectable courses—a salad consisting of local arugula, roasted wild mushroom chickpea flour pancake, and sun-dried tomato pesto; crispy oyster mushroom with artichoke purée; heart of palm “crab cakes” with basil aioli; all of it was exciting and, more importantly, delicious.
We got a chance recently—after settling back into New York life—to speak with Co-Owner/Chef, Tal Ronnen (below, right), and Executive Chef, Scot Jones (below, left) about the idea behind the restaurant, how the food scenes differ between LA + NYC, and Tal’s new vegan cheese line.
raven + crow: So, first off, we had a really wonderful experience when we visited Crossroads—excellently designed space + creative, delectable food. It really struck us as deliberately different, in a wonderful way. Was it important to you all in planning the restaurant to venture off onto a path less traveled when it comes to the vegan restaurant scene?
Chef Scot: Thank you so much, we really appreciate your kind words. Yes, it was important to focus on a great, sexy space that our guests enjoy coming to, not just because it’s plant-based.
Well-done then—we loved it. For those who haven’t yet been, how would you sum up the idea behind Crossroads?
Chef Scot: We are Mediterranean small plates that happen to be plant-based.
Being in the branding business, we have to ask—is there a story behind the name?
Chef Tal: The name has different meanings to different partners. For me it speaks to the variety of guests that we have, from vegans to carnivores and everyone in between.
Makes sense. The overall gestalt of the food at Crossroads could easily be paired with so many larger issues—animal rights, personal health, support of local produce + farms; do you all work with any organizations in those realms to either promote their causes or just ensure the integrity of the food sources at the restaurant?
Chef Tal: Chef Scot works with chefs to end hunger, and I like to work with animal protection groups. All of these groups are near and dear to our hearts though.
Obviously people come to vegetarianism + veganism in different ways—some do it for health reasons, others for ethical reasons, maybe some just because it’s the diet du jour—but what personally brought you to a plant-based diet?
Chef Scot: Chef Tal turned the light on for me, and I believe that all chefs should gear their menu towards a lifestyle that is necessary.
Do you feel like it’s helpful to have been an enthusiastic non-vegan eater + chef in terms of bringing those ideas + memories of taste to your vegan cooking?
Chef Scot: Yes, that is why my version of plant-based cooking is delicious, and appeals to non-vegans as well.
In terms of food trends, is there anything that’s got you particularly excited right now? What’s, say, the ‘new tofu’ for you?
Chef Scot: Right now we are going back to traditional basics—ancient grains.
Tal, Can you talk a little about Kite Hill, your new nut-milk-based cheese line (pictured right, photo by Liza Gershman)? What makes it different from the other various nut-based cheeses out there?
Chef Tal: Our cheeses are made like traditional cheese. We make the milk, form a curd, press the cheese and age them. Most other nut cheeses are ground up nuts then pressed to look like cheese.
Yeah, we have yet to try it ourselves (you all were debuting it at Whole Foods the night we were at the restaurant), but it looks amazing. I know you used to be at Candle 79 here in New York. Having spent so much time working in both NYC + LA, what strikes you about how the two food scenes differ most?
Chef Tal: The West Coast has broader access to fresh fruits and vegetables, but I miss the intimate vibe at New York restaurants that you don’t see in LA.
We are packed in tight. Do you feel like there are aspects of the New York scene, as it were, that you intentionally brought to bear at Crossroads?
Chef Tal: Yes, the dining room. It’s very cozy with amazing chandeliers, booths, and banquettes. There is no lime green in the decor.
Lime green is pretty mid-century. I hear it’s making a comeback though. What do you like about LA, either in a foods sense or a more general sense?
Chef Tal: Waking up to sunshine every day and the farmers’ markets.
Finally, I know it’s like choosing a favorite child, but what would you recommend most at the restaurant?
Chef Scot: Our pasta program…all of them. The Tortelloni and the Pappardelle Bolognese.
Crossroads is located at 8284 Melrose Avenue in West Hollywood, Los Angeles, California and, if you’re in the area or live nearby, we highly recommend a visit, be you vegan or not. Reservations are highly encouraged.
Below, Cassoulet with du puy lentils, wild mushrooms, English peas, carrots, leeks + grilled spring onions; Kale Spanakopita; Farinatta Salad; and Risotto Del Giorno. Kite Hill cheese photo, Liza Gershman; all others, courtesy of the restaurant.