Ravi DeRossi, the restaurateur and nightlife man behind many an East Village cocktail bar (including Mayahuel, Amor Y Amargo, and Cienfuegos), is planning to open a vegan restaurant called Avant Garden in the East Village, in the space at 130 E 7th Street that used to house Gingersnap's Organic. He tells Eater that this is a "passion project" for him, having grown up vegan himself, and stayed vegan most of his life. It's actually not the first time he's planned such a project – back in 2013 he planned to open a vegan restaurant called Ladybird in Carroll Gardens, but that never came to be. Two years later, however, he has a few more restaurants – which are "much more difficult" than bars – under his belt, and is ready to make a go of it.
DeRossi says that this is something he's been wanting to do for 10 or 20 years, but finding a good vegan chef has always been the "biggest obstacle." Now, however, he's found that chef in Andrew D'Ambrosi, who currently runs the kitchen at DeRossi's Carroll Gardens seafood restaurant, Bergen Hill. The way he tells it, D'Ambrosi put a hen of the woods mushroom dish on the menu that DeRossi, who "always hated mushrooms," loved. That dish turned out to be vegan, and so from there DeRossi had the chef begin experimenting with other vegan dishes, offering them as specials at Bergen Hill. Two years later, they've pulled together a list of about 20 that will make up Avant Garden's vegan menu. Those include things like charred onion with chimichurri and seasoned breadcrumbs, and roasted carrots with orange, honey, pumpkin seeds and quinoa, as well as that hen of the woods dish.
The restaurant itself will be upscale, outfitted with an open kitchen and a long counter (out of the 30 or so seats, most will be at this counter). Kitchen staff will double as wait staff, and serve all the dishes themselves. DeRossi is contemplating doing a tasting menu as well, but hasn't decided for sure yet. Though he'll remain the executive chef at Bergen Hill, D'Ambrosi will spend the majority of his time at Avant Garden, a requirement given that DeRossi wants this to be a place that uses lots of seasonal vegetables, and has a menu that changes regularly.
To go hand in hand with the opening of this new vegan venture, DeRossi is also launching a nonprofit, BEAST (stands for Benefits to End Animal Suffering Today), which will host regular fundraisers for animal rights organizations. "The idea is to try to make it cool," he says, to throw parties at bars and show that vegans aren't all "crunchy granola, tree-hugging" types. Plus, once Avant Garden opens, all of DeRossi's restaurants will expand their vegan and vegetarian options. If all goes well, he says, "I'll probably do a vegan fast-casual place."
Avant Garden should open by the first or second week of July, or maybe even late June if all goes smoothly (but when does that ever happen?). Meanwhile, DeRossi's other current project, Mother of Pearl, his tiki bar replacement for Gin Palace, is still a few weeks away. The space and the menus are ready to go, but its still waiting on permits to get new windows installed in the front. Worst case scenario (for DeRossi at least) the two places are ready to open at the exact same time.