The Vegetarian Option: Back Forty
190 Avenue B, New York NY 10009 (near 12th St; map); 212-388-1990; backfortynyc.com
Cuisine: Seasonal American
Veggie Options: 6 or 7 appetizers/sides, 1 entrée
Cost: Appetizers are $7-12, veg entrées $18-20
Summer is a blissful time to eat meatlessly. The markets are bursting with color: bouquets of basil, sugar-sweet corn, fragrant field tomatoes (finally!) and delicate lettuces. The new summer menu at Back Forty in Alphabet City takes advantage of that bounty to great effect.
Tempura-fried squash blossoms stuffed with ricotta are everywhere you turn, but Back Forty's squash blossoms ($20), which ooze fresh goat cheese, are a step up from the rest. The batter is light, greaseless and crispy, and the filling is rich and tangy. A little mountain of dill and summer squash salad offers a tart, cleansing contrast, though the pumpkin seed purée on the plate didn't do much for me. The squash blossoms were beautifully prepared, but pricey: yes, squash blossoms are highly perishable and truly expensive, but for twenty dollars, we could have used one or two more. This dish is nowhere near filling enough to be a meal on its own; you'll have to order an appetizer or two.
Luckily, we started with the super-creamy chilled summer corn soup ($7), a dish you'd never guess was vegan. It's silky and decadent despite the lack of dairy, and every spoonful is a perfect distillation of sweet corn on the cob. A dribble of chili oil, a squeeze of lime, and a tangle of cilantro and purple onion woke up the flavors and balanced out the corn's sweetness. I'd come back for this dish, for sure—it may be the nicest corn chowder I've had in recent memory.
The greens in the swiss chard gratin($9) were nicely cooked, retaining their vivid color and snappy freshness, but the toasty filo topping wasn't our favorite, verging on bitter on top and soggy underneath.
I was surprised when our waitresses offered us a rhubarb-based dessert—isn't rhubarb season over? But the rhubarb upside-down cake is not to be missed. The stalks of rhubarb are thoroughly caramelized, the cake moist and buttery. We spooned up every last drop of the sweet-tart red currant syrup, and vowed to come back as often as we can before the seasons change again.
About the Author: Maggie Hoffman is always looking for good beer, good wine, and a few good restaurants to recommend. She also writes about cooking for Pithy and Cleaver.