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Edible tromp l’oeil—dishes that look like one thing but are something else altogether—are a hallmark of avant-grade cuisine. But two new, more casual eateries—Duke’s Grocery and Thally—are serving vegetarian dishes that might deceive you until you dig in. No imitation bacon included.
At Duke’s Grocery, chef Alex McCoy prepares faux escargots ($7) that look like the real deal, except that the snail shells are stuffed with braised cremini mushrooms. McCoy says the idea was to create more exciting vegetarian food and appeal to people who might not otherwise eat escargots. “I like to have fun with food,” McCoy says. “Good restaurant food tastes good, but it’s always a more enjoyable experience if you play with it. I’m still a big kid at heart.”
McCoy sautés the cremini mushrooms—which he says feel the most like eating real escargots—with a little bit of butter and olive oil, then mixes them in a bouillon made with the mushroom stems, bay leaves, and pepper before braising everything. The mushrooms are then stuffed inside snail shells (bought empty) and tossed with a classic French escargot butter (butter with garlic, parsley, and salt). The whole thing is served over toasted ciabatta from Lyon Bakery.
“I’ve had a lot of people actually thinking they’re eating escargots,” McCoy says.
On the menu at Thally in Shaw, one first course item reads as “watermelon, heirloom tomato, herbed goat cheese, pickled radish.” So you could be forgiven for thinking you’ve gotten the wrong order when nigiri sushi shows up at your table. Chef Ron Tanaka cuts the watermelon, marinated in sherry vinegar overnight, into little logs and tops them with slices of tomato that have been blanched, peeled, and tossed in a vinaigrette of sherry vinegar, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Goat cheese is combined with a basil and herb puree to look like wasabi, and pickled watermelon radishes resembled pickled ginger. A few drips of pomegranate syrup mimic the soy sauce.
Tanaka says the preparation was accidental: “When we were trying to figure out how to plate it, we made little logs of the watermelon and cut leaves of the tomato and really just put it on top. It just kind of happened.” If you want to try the dish, head to Thally soon. Tanaka says it will disappear when he updates the menu with more seasonal items next week.
Photos by Jessica Sidman