I may not be the most objective of journalists when it comes to Rich Landau's food.
For one thing, I was honored that he grabbed the "Veg" from my Daily News column "V for Veg" to use as the name of his previous trailblazing restaurant, and now he's come back for the "V" for his next one, V Street. Thanks for the homage, Rich! Much appreciated.
Seriously, though, Landau himself usually expresses an objectively low-key, matter-of-fact attitude about his own culinary creations, avoiding over-the-top acclamations. After all, just about every diner who's eaten at Vedge provides those, while he concentrates on the food and its flavors. Oh man, those flavors!
But in a recent conversation about his upcoming Rittenhouse Square venue, he tipped his hand a bit, mentioning that "we are in the development stages of a vegetable version of classic shwarma that will be mind-blowing."
Wow. Given that dishes Landau might describe as "that one turned out pretty good" are referred to by his guests as "mind-blowing," one could logically extrapolate that something he's ready to use that term for is going to, I don't know, alter the very fabric of reality.
That's a dangerous game, but Landau promised that "there's not going to be anything safe" on the V Street menu. "This is for food warriors."
When I pressed for a sample menu item, Landau said the overall menu is still developing, but "it will consist of very small plates," including "something like a skewer of trumpet mushrooms" or "these crepes I've found that they make in France using chickpea flour." He promised that "bolder, edgier flavors" from Vedge, like the XO sauce, "will make the transition" to the new joint, and that "there will be a heavy Asian influence, as well as a substantial Middle-Eastern influence" in many plates.
What about the mind-blowing shwarma? Might we see, I asked, a vegan take on... gyros? Landau indicated this would be too pat for the adventure he's planning. And he gently knocked down my suggestion to bring back the Jamaican BBQ seitan that, in "wings" form, first hooked many people, including me, on Horizons (in addition to Kate Jacoby's inventive desserts).
"Look, lots of bars do BBQ [seitan] wings now," he pointed out, "and Mark [Mebus, at Blackbird] has some fantastic vegan wings. For me, that would be going back in time. I want to move forward."
Rather than simply taking existing street fare and veganizing it, Landau said the idea is to be "inspired by it to do something that hasn't been done before." After all, "a lot of basic street food is vegan or vegan-friendly -- these foods are basically all variations on dough," which then have animal products added. His intent is to take off from these plant-based foundations in totally new, different directions, keeping it vegan all the way.
And sadly for those of us who are impatient to taste what we know will be out-of-this-world concoctions, Landau is taking his time to perfect his menu: "We're having a great time, turning Vedge into a lab during the day," he said, as part of an explanation of how V Street will be unlikely to open before summer.
So for now we can wait, and enjoy living in a world that hasn't yet been totally rent asunder by the newest iteration of Landau and Jacoby's brilliance. If history is any guide, the wait will be worth it: Landau sees V Street as a quantum leap in originality from Vedge.
I already thought the latter was a quantum leap, but he corrected me: "When we opened Vedge, it was a variation on a theme - it was picking up where Horizons left off. This is a whole different concept."
In sum, he offered one prediction: "One thing we're not gonna be is predictable."