To dine at Verbena is to celebrate vegetarian cuisine at its best and to experience how a seemingly simple vegetarian dish can transform when partnered with innovative sauces. While Verbena does have plenty of hearty meat dishes to choose from, the non-meat dishes shine here. Chef Sean Baker, who is famous for his vegan charcuterie as Berkeley’s beloved restaurant called Gather, continues to craft up his best dishes at Verbena with all-vegetarian ingredients. Much of the heirloom produce celebrated on their menu comes from the owner’s very own Lindencroft farm, which is located in the Santa Cruz mountains. Lucky for me, my dining buddy also wanted to tackle all four of the vegetarian starters on the menu for our meal.
I started the meal off with the strangest artisan cocktail on the menu, the Moon Milk cocktail, with Batavia-Arrack, sherry, clarified goat milk, and lime. Never having tasted clarified goat milk in a cocktail (or even in food, for that matter), I was intrigued. Expecting something more similar to a White Russian, I ended up with a light and citrusy beverage that complemented the array of vegetarian dishes we ate.
We began the meal with the acclaimed sprouted Seed bread with chèvre, pickled cauliflower, and onions. If you have ever been to Scandinavia, this bread will remind you of that dense, nutty, seedy, incredible brown bread that is so rare to find elsewhere.
What seemed like a seemingly simple apple, beet, and chicory salad turned out to be a surprisingly complex and dreamy salad. The secret laid in the beet and blackblackberry walnut dressing. Never before had I tried something like this. Now I just to to find out the secret recipe so that can make it on my own.
The next starter was with my favorite summer pepper, perfectly grilled so that the skin just started to blister. The padron and shishito peppers were paired with okra, fresh cow peas, pickled lime mayonnaise, and a curry leaf.
My favorite thing about Fall is squash. So naturally, I was incredibly excited to taste the dish with kabocha squash. The squash was paired trinidad perfume pepper, kaffir lime, and lemon verbena. There is nothing better than eating one of your favorite things in a completely new way; it’s almost like trying it again for the first time!
The next dish also took advantage of Fall flavors by making a potato and green bean dish with a pumpkin seed milk dressing with arugula, sprouts, and dill. The potatoes had a tenderness that nicely contrasted to the crunchy green beans and sprouts.
The one vegetarian main dish took this year’s shelling beans and cooked them in last year’s shelling miso. It was then topped with cauliflower, sunflower hearts, duck egg, and chanterelle mushrooms. This is a quintessential San Francisco dish because it shows off the craftsmanship of fermentation and takes advantage of local produce.
Finally, we finished the meal off with a pumpkin dessert! The heretic porter cake laid crumbled on top of candy cap ice cream which was drizzled with pumpkin juice sauce and cascade hops. This dessert was a great ending to an incredible and very special meal which is a homage to the innovative dishes that are found in this gastronomic wonderland that we call San Francisco.