A proper southern gentleman invited me to pick any restaurant in town that I’d always wanted to eat at. Ever since I’d learned about the special vegan tasting menu at XIV from quarrygirl.com, I’d been wanting to try it, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity. XIV (pronounced Fourteen) is the brainchild of Chef Michael Mina, and it’s not a place you would expect vegans to be getting all excited about considering it’s a restaurant that serves all manner of animal bits & bobs, but this omnivorous upscale eatery hasn’t left animal loving foodies out in the cold. XIV has created not only a special vegetarian menu but also an entirely separate vegan menu.
Think about it, that’s kind of amazing. Here you’ve got this expensive, ultra snazzy restaurant catering to Hollywood’s lobster & foie gras eating elite, while at the same time making an all-out extraordinary effort to also please herbivores. Just a few years ago restaurants like this would have scoffed at vegans, now they’re vying for our attention and practically begging for our business. How far things have come!
For vegans, XIV offers a full menu complete with appetizers, salads, entrees and desserts. The way to really get the full experience however is to go for a multi-course tasting. You have the option of 8 courses (“A light Meal”), 11 courses (“Something More”), or the whopping 14 courses (“Fourteen from XIV”). I was expecting that we would go with the 8 courses but my generous host suggested we dare for the 11 courses instead. More food? Who am I to argue?
We’ve got a lot of ground to cover, let’s get started!
Once I realized that the stuff that looked like rice actually was the turnip I was thrilled. It’s rice, but not rice! I’ve always loved Asian pear, so to have it incorporated into a savory dish like this was an enlightening eye-opener.
Second Course: Beet Carpaccio with apple, radish and candied tangerines.
With a slightly tart dressing… mmmmmmmmmm.
Third Course: Heirloom Tomato and Peach Salad with Watercress and Lemon Vinaigrette
Sounds simple but when I was finished I wanted to lick the plate.
Fourth Course: Cauliflower Tempura with Edamame, Passion Fruit and Almonds
This stuff is amazing. I could have eaten a bowl of this cauliflower just on it’s own. It’s one of the must-try items on the menu for sure. My only complaint is that I would have liked more.
Fifth Course: Spinach, cantaloupe, cherry tomatoes in a tomato sauce
I’d never in a million years pair up cantaloupe with spinach & tomatoes but it really worked well here.
Sixth Course: Charred Broccoli Rabe on a Sushi Rice Cake with White Soy Vinaigrette and dried ginger
We both loved this and both felt it was our favorite dish. The rice cake on the bottom had a really nice chewy texture and the vinaigrette was just the perfect flavor to go with the slightly bitter greens. The red stuff is a mildly spicy chili sauce. Excellent.
Seventh Course: Padron Peppers, Chantrelle Mushrooms, chickpeas and green peas
We both felt this was the weakest dish. It was lovely to look at but didn’t have much flavor. The peppers had a good char on the outside and were tasty, the little ones weren’t hot but the big one had quite a kick. The mushrooms looked so promising but didn’t taste of anything. The chickpeas & peas weren’t as cooked through as I am used to eating them (they were hard) and didn’t taste as if anything had been done to them.
Eight Course: Falafel Burger with Tahini Sauce and Fries
The fries were awesome, the falafel just ok. I grew up eating some of the world’s finest falafel, so for me this just fell short. The outside was crispy but the inside was mushy. While the fries were nice & salty, the falafel was under seasoned and the tahini sauce was bitter.
Ninth Course: Vegetable skewers with chickpea and red bell pepper puree
By the time we’d made it to course nine, we were stuffed! At this point in the meal skewers of simple veggies didn’t do much to impress. There was nothing wrong with this and the puree’s were good, it just seemed like an anticlimactic closer that didn’t leave a lasting impression. Plus when they asked if we had any preferences I specified that I don’t like onions, so I was confused as to why they thought I would enjoy skewers that waere 1/4 onion. While well prepared this felt like a generic dish you’d serve to a vegan when you don’t know what else to feed them.
Tenth Course: Compressed Strawberries with Cacao Fruit Sorbet and Violet syrup
This dessert on the other hand rocked my socks off- everything on the plate was spectacular. The thing that looks like a white ball is hardened white chocolate that explodes with the most amazing strawberry syrup when you crack it open. It really does explode too, mine sprayed all over the place… sexy!
Eleventh Course: Coconut Sorbet with Peanut Butter Crunch & Basil Syrup
And one more final stunner to end the meal, this one another success. The coconut sorbet tasted like the coconut ice creams I’ve had at Thai restaurants, only so much more complex in flavor, absolutely fantastic. The rice underneath was nice & sticky and coconut flavored as well. The peanut butter crunch tasted to me just like the crispy stuff on the inside of a Butterfinger, only more peanuty… and way better.
Wow. While there were a few dishes that didn’t blow our minds, everything was so well prepared and beautifully presented that even the few duds didn’t bring anything down. Eleven courses was a lot, I don’t know how anyone can get through all fourteen. I’d even say that if you go with eight courses you’ll be very satisfied and quite full as some of these felt like filler. They will let you either choose your own items or let the kitchen pick for you. We let the kitchen do the picking because we just wanted to sit back and be entertained. YoSoyLiz did the same when she had her 8 course meal at XIV. You’ll note she was served the same courses that we were, only fewer. You might however prefer to put together your own meal from their menu, and they were conscientious about asking if we had any preferences, foods we don’t like (ehm, I said NO ONIONS, BITCH!), allergies, etc… Note that their menu will change with the seasons and availability.
One negative that shouldn’t go without mention is that we were made to wait for a very long time despite having made reservations weeks in advance. We arrived at 7:45 for our 8pm reservation and ended up waiting until after 10pm to be seated. That’s more than two hours of waiting. Thankfully my friend and I hadn’t seen each other in a long time and had a lot of catching up to do, but had we been less patient or more hungry that sort of wait would have been unacceptable, especially for a restaurant of this caliber and for a price tag that high (we were not offered a discount for our inconvenience). They don’t have much of a waiting area other than the bar, which is located directly in the walkway of the waitstaff. If you’re not there early enough to snag a seat at the bar, you’ll be stuck standing while waiting for your table and feeling like you are constantly in the way of the staff delivering food. At one point we were given free glasses of champagne to appease us, which we accepted, but I don’t even really like champagne, so other than that being a nice gesture, it basically fell flat. Thankfully once we were seated they treated us like royalty, and once our order was placed our food started coming out at breakneck speed. Just be advised that if you’ve got plans to be somewhere else after dinner at XIV, you might want to give yourself a large window of time, otherwise you’ll never make it. I doubt it’s like that all the time but we were there on a Tuesday night with that sort of delay, so I can’t imagine what the wait must be like on a busy weeknight. Hopefully this sort of thing was a fluke, but plan accordingly.
The next time you find yourself with the opportunity to indulge in a way-too expensive meal at a very fancy & chic L.A. hotspot helmed by a celebrity chef, consider a night out at XIV. While it’s not the best vegan food you will ever have, it’s also very unique and is well worth it for the chance to experience an artfully prepared meal in a setting that’s unlike anywhere else… your date will be totally impressed, even if they get slipped an onion or two. To sweeten the deal, XIV is participating in the upcoming week of DineLA (October 11-16) and is offering it’s vegan options at special rates. After DineLA ends they will also be giving 20% off of their vegan menu through December. Our waitress was excited to let us know about these deals so it seems they are making every effort to attract more vegan customers… a tactic which I highly approve of. You might want to mention that you’re coming in for the vegan menu when you make your reservations just to be sure they can accommodate you. I don’t know if these discounts apply to their vegetarian menu as well (though I’d imagine they do) so you’ll need to verify that one yourself. Or just go vegan already.
XIV by Michael Mina
8117 Sunset Blvd
West Hollywood, CA 90046