New year, new veggie-focused menu at Nudel

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LENOX — As Nudel restaurant reopens after a short holiday break, chef/owner Bjorn Somlo has decided to kick off the new year, and the new decade, with a new concept — a vegetable-forward menu that promises to be "resolution friendly."

The dinner menu for the intimate 27-seat farm-to-table, New American restaurant on Church Street in Lenox has always changed daily, using sustainably grown seasonal offerings from small local farms and purveyors.

But a menu that is entirely — or even mostly — vegetarian or vegan isn't something that Somlo has showcased before.

"It's a good time of year to do this," Somlo said, because diners are more interested in clean eating, especially after the holidays.

The idea, he continued, was that food needs to taste and look good, but with the challenge of how to make it healthier without it seeming too much like "health food."

"Because that's not the point," Somlo explained. "Food that's exciting and fun — that's why people go out to eat."

Somlo, 39, currently lives in Lenox and has lived in the Berkshires on and off for almost 25 years. Since opening Nudel in August 2009, he has gained national attention as a James Beard Rising Star Chef of the Year and Best Chef Northeast nominee.

Somlo said Nudel has always had "a close relationship with the veggie kingdom," since the restaurant's menu is seasonally inspired, and changes daily based on what local farms have available.

The restaurant works closely with Berkshire area farms, such as Woven Roots Farm in Tyringham, The Berry Patch in Stephentown, N.Y. and High Lawn Farm in Lee, and tries to showcase the fresh ingredients in ways that honor the products and ensure the most flavor.

As Somlo and his chefs get older, they have personally been eating more of a plant-based diet, he said, and feel that their explorative Nudel diners are open to doing the same.

"We are in constant movement with the guests, and the changes of the season and the atmosphere. We attempt to be thoughtful and aware as much as possible — that's why we do what we do — and try to look at the bigger picture, of the impact of all of this — on the planet, and what we eat to power ourselves," Somlo said.

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Somlo said that the restaurant's new and regular diners have been excited about the vegetable-forward menu.

"Nudel is a surprise for people who haven't been there before, that's our charm," Somlo said. "We're not an average restaurant — that's the great thing, is that people who follow us tend to be excited to see what we do with this food."

Somlo said they print new menus every day because the menu is always in change and rotation, making tweaks based on what dishes were popular and worked well, and what ingredients are available.

"We're always playing with the best mix of concept and guest experience," he said.

Moving forward, the menu in upcoming weeks will intersperse meat dishes but keep a cleaner, "resolution friendly" vibe that is largely vegetarian or vegan and gluten free, Somlo said. It will include some animal-based proteins, but in lighter preparations.

"I'm a pretty big carnivore myself, but it's great to have people see that there are so many more things you can eat. It's not about meat replacement, it's to eat a lot of veggies, eat clean, and it's fun to try something else for a minute," he said.

Somlo said the restaurant is playing with the vegan concept as a "pop-up," or temporary restaurant idea, as a way to celebrate their 10th anniversary, when they always try to do something different.

"It's not a statement going forwards," Somlo said. "We just do pop-ups to keep moving forward and keep things fresh — if we find an audience, we might be able to do it more."

In keeping with the vegan concept, for the sample menu on Wednesday night, diners could choose "bacon" made from portobello mushroom, $12, or a "steak" from parsnips, $14. Somlo said a very popular dish has also been the Spicy Braised Collard Greens and Cauliflower with blue cheese polenta and green onion.

Other menu items that may soon make an appearance include, "The Curiously Tasty Gluten Free and Vegan Sandwich" with lupini, saffron, broccoli and pepperoncini, or Crispy Maitake Mushrooms with cucumber, white miso and split pea.

"More than anything is 10 years of Nudel continuing to be a place that's always changing, trying to make good food," Somlo said. "We're not fancy, we're not fine dining. We really just want to make good food, so we don't get lazy."


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