Intricate seafood towers are the first portrait my mind paints when thinking of foods served in the lap of luxury. The grandiose culinary spectacle has long been the territory of high-end steakhouses and raw bars. Thus, as many living the high life have moved towards vegan lifestyles, this extravaganza has traveled with them.
At Crossroads Kitchen in West Hollywood, a limited edition plant-based Seafood Tower has been quietly gracing the menu. The brainchild of owner Tal Ronnen and executive chef Scot Jones, the two culinary geniuses have tinkered with plants and fungi to get them to taste just like seafood.
To be honest, you wouldn't expect anything less from a restaurant as gifted in vegan transformations as Crossroads. Since its opening in 2013, Ronnen and Jones's establishment has been the talk of the town because of how they make plants taste like seafood. They are famous for signature dishes like their hearts of palm "Crab Cakes" and "Artichoke Oysters."
For the plant-based Seafood Tower, Jones and Ronnen have produced a plethora of vegetables that mimic seafood on taste and aroma. On the top "hot food" layer you'll find calamari, Clams Casino, Oysters Rockefeller, and shrimp cocktail. Underneath that is a "cold dishes" platter of smoked salmon mousse on bread, ceviche, and tequila oyster shooters.
On some of these items, the secret to their flavor is what they're cooked in. Chef Jones explained that kombu (a type of Japanese seaweed) is a key component, as it provides the briny, salty aroma you associate with the sea. Chef Ronnen added on that because a lot of sea creatures eat seaweed, the flavor association between the animal and what they eat is pretty strong.
As for the plants, each one contributes something different in terms of texture and flavor. For the "calamari," cooked hearts of palm separates into rings that emulate a perfectly cooked squid's supple bite. The slight crunchy resistance of lychee can easily be mistaken for raw fish in Crossroad's take on ceviche. When it comes to the "oysters," the shiitake mushroom makes for a great slippery substitute.
The shrimp cocktail uses one of the most exciting natural seafood replicas out there: the lobster mushroom. A hyper-seasonal fungi that grows in forests, it's actually a parasitic relationship between a mushroom and a mold that results in this characteristic oceanic aroma and vibrant pink hue. Chef Jones brought a couple of whole ones out for us to experience, and the mimicry was truly mind-blowing.
Of course, the biggest challenge is getting everything to 100 percent resemble what seafood is. Since Crossroads relies on vegetables and fungi, the texture isn't always quite there, but the flavor is spot on. For Foodbeast's own Oscar Gonzalez, a pescatarian, he saw it as a great introduction to the world of vegetarian cuisine. "The flavors were there," he explained, "and even though the texture was slightly off, I could live with that."
According to Chef Jones, this is Crossroads' primary goal in creating these plant-based replicas. By showing omnivorous and carnivorous eaters that getting a similar sensory experience to their meaty favorites is possible with plants, it makes them more willing to eat foods that are more sustainable for the planet.
The Seafood Tower will be on Crossroads' menu as long as the lobster mushrooms are in season. This is typically through late October to early November, but could be longer based on availability. You can find it as a limited special during dinner services on Fridays and Saturdays through that time period.