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Review: You don't have to be vegan to love Plant Food + Wine

Review: Four stars for Matthew Kenney Plant Food + Wine in Miami

 

★★★★

It would be a backhanded compliment to say Matthew Kenney's Plant Food + Wine is great for a vegan restaurant, just as it would be condescending to say that Amy Schumer is great for a female comedian or Cam Newton is great for a black quarterback. No qualifier, label or box is needed for such unbridled talent. Plant Food + Wine is a great restaurant, period.

The food is delicious, gorgeous and innovative, all the more astounding because it happens to be vegan. Everything is made from plants, plant offshoots or derivatives. It is simply amazing what this kitchen can do with fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, flowers and even seaweed.

Yes, seaweed. Kelp is used to make the noodles in the cacio e pepe, a traditional Italian pasta dish, and if you ate this blindfolded, you might swear you were in some trattoria in Rome. The pasta was luscious and creamy, tossed with a green-olive puree and sun-dried olives (instead of cheese), and topped with peppery baby brassica (mustard greens). There was another big difference, but it wasn't off-putting: The noodles were served at room temperature, because nearly all dishes at Plant Food + Wine aren't cooked. There are no stoves or ovens in the kitchen, only a sous-vide cooker for certain vegetable dishes (hot water is used to bring bagged food to 155 degrees).

I went to Plant Food + Wine with a hardcore vegan, two committed carnivores and a 10-year-old. We marveled at the intricacies and beauty of each plate that arrived at the table, and then we devoured every last bite. Each dish is so pretty, you don't know whether to Instagram it, frame it or run off to Sotheby's and try to auction it.

The avocado-based and radish-garnished gazpacho ($13), delicate kimchi dumplings with ginger foam ($15), and black bean tamale ranchero ($22) – topped with flower petals and fresh herbs – all looked too good to eat. But eaten they were. The cacio e pepe ($22) looked like a Jackson Pollock painting, green puree splattered around the edges, like something you'd find down the road at the Perez Art Museum Miami. Besides plates, food is also served on slates and slabs. Sometimes, I frown on food as art, but I couldn't help but break into a beatific smile as each little masterpiece made its way to the table and down my gullet.

The most unfortunate thing about Plant Food + Wine is its name, because "plant food" makes you think of some pulverized material you mix in soil to perk up your flora. Nothing here is unappetizing. The food isn't merely edible. It's enjoyable.

Take, for example, the artisanal "cheese" platter, which is how we began a recent Sunday brunch. I ordered with deep skepticism and trepidation. I arrived at Plant Food + Wine in the midst of a one-week stint as a vegetarian, an immersion project to get in the spirit of the upcoming Seed Food and Wine Festival. (The vegan- and plant-based food party will take place across Miami and Miami Beach Nov. 2-6, and will attract hundreds of vendors and chefs from across the country.) Throughout my vegetarian experience, I encountered all manner of odious and horrific faux cheeses. Not at Plant Food + Wine.

The upgraded platter ($28) included blue cheese along with white truffle, smoked cheddar and mixed peppercorn. The "cheese" here is made from fermented ground cashews, not soy, and the texture and flavor were terrific. Each hunk and wedge of cheese was distinct, so creamy they actually felt as if they were melting in your mouth. The platter was served with brittle sunflower seed crackers, a guava jam and pickled shreds of carrot, fennel and cucumber.

It set the tone for a parade of unexpected delights. The dumplings, wrapped in a cilantro-coconut "dough" and stuffed with crunchy kimchi, were a treat. The sunflower Caesar salad ($14) featured huge stalks of romaine leaf, coated in vibrant, caper-flecked dressing. The fruit and yogurt bowl ($15) was tangy and tart and tasted like dairy. The cauliflower steak ($19), one of the few sous-vide cooked items, was rich and meaty.

I could go on and on, rhapsodizing about each dish, but this is a place that's best experienced instead of described. It's expensive, but if you're an adventurous eater, you'll need to try it at least once.

Perhaps the biggest challenge of this meal was finding it. Plant Food + Wine is tucked away on a hard-to-find block in Miami, on the east side of the railroad tracks that divide Edgewater and Wynwood. There is no sign, just a big fence around a parking lot and $10 valet parking. Other lots on the block are sketchy, but this is an oasis of tranquility, part of the Sacred Space Miami wellness campus. The patio overlooks a garden and contemplation pool. The dining room is light, airy and spacious, with high ceilings and a sleek bar serving organic spirits and wines.

The service is friendly, helpful and professional. Because we were so curious and impressed, our server asked if we wanted to tour the kitchen when our meal was over. Apparently, this is standard procedure (I didn't identify who I was), and they proudly showed off the immaculate working areas, including the culinary academy in the back, where disciples of the California-based Kenney are given magic powers and told to go forth and spread the plant-cuisine gospel.

We met the chef de cuisine, Horacio Rivadero, who oversees the Miami outpost, which opened in February. Kenney's flagship restaurant is in Venice Beach, Calif., and he now has eateries, schools and inns spreading across the country, including in Maine and New York.

Our smiling young tour guide asked if we wanted to leave our email addresses, so we could get more information about upcoming classes and learn how to make those yummy cheeses. Sign me up.

mmayo@southflorida.com, 954-356-4508. Follow my food adventures on Instagram: @mikemayoeats. Sign up for my weekly newsletter at SouthFlorida.com/EatBeatMail.

Plant Food + Wine

105 NE 24th St., Miami

305-814-5365, PlantFoodAndWineMiami.com

Cuisine: Vegan, plant-based creations

Cost: Expensive

Hours: 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday; 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11:30 a.m.-midnight Friday-Saturday.

Reservations: Yes

Credit cards: All major

Bar: Full bar, featuring organic spirits and wines

Sound level: Pleasant

Outside smoking: No

Wheelchair accessible: Yes

Parking: Valet (cash) and street (pay by phone or app)

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