Here’s what I knew about Oxheart beforehand: tiny (tiny!) portions, big prices ($75 for either the meat or for the vegetarian tasting menu), creative stuff with vegetables. With those battling interests in mind, it took years—until my 26th birthday—for me to enter the rustic wooden doors into the cozy corner residence where the creativity of Oxheart takes place.
First, it should be noted that the service is seamless. From the moment we sat down, service was quick, knowledgeable and personalized—complimentary bubbly was brought for our party of six and my birthday was acknowledged multiple times by our friendly server and Chef Justin Yu, who came out to explain several of the dishes to us. The kitchen was easily able to accommodate a request to edit one meal to be vegan and free of mushroom and egg.
Mung bean pancake stuffed with alliums, potato, and miso, with pickled beets and burnt onion
So yes, THE FOOD. While the first course hinted at the reason behind why Justin Yu and his four-year-old restaurant have received so many accolades—a fragrant apple broth swimming with feathery chanterelle mushrooms, smoked dried figs and aromatic shreds of roselle—it was the second course that immediately blew everyone’s mind at the table. The mung bean pancake is golden and crisp, yet the inside houses a custardy, extraordinarily tasty mingling of corn, braised onion, and miso. Onion is echoed in the caramelized onion puree that dots paper-thin rounds of pickled red beet that fan out in a mirror image of the crepe.
English’ cucumber poached in fermented cucumber juice, with bitter almond, spiced tomato fondant, and ‘cuban’ oregano
Our table was evenly split between the two tasting menus: half went with the vegetarian (“Garden”) menu, while the other half went with the meat-inclusive menu. However, this only represented a discrepancy in two courses: for the third course, the Garden menu members received a slender round of cucumber poached in fermented cucumber juice (tender, revitalizing and vivid with juice) while the rest of the table received a palm-sized chunk of perfectly steamed tilefish in an intensely green broth. In lieu of the fifth course round of chicken stuffed with a chicken thigh mixture and draped with collard greens, the Garden menu featured a stack of almost toothpick-thin carrots caramelized to a shade of rust with deeply chewy edges that cover a mess of another carrot mixture.
We all came together to swoon over the bowl of grains cooked until perfectly chewy in warming spices that hinted at Curry, accented with a dollop of cauliflower puree and tiny chunks of orange. Even the bread (a bonus course between the third and fourth dishes), a golden bun of oat-studded vegan sourdough accompanied by a smear of whipped, salted butter, was phenomenal: crisp on the outside and inordinately fresh and fluffy inside.
Creme Fraiche cremeux with strawberries glazed in mushroom and sorghum, thyme, lime
The dessert was a play on strawberries and cream: a blob of crème fraiche cremeaux alongside a dried strawberry glazed in mushroom and sorghum.
Beverage pairings are available for an additional $45 for the menu, but we went for a bottle of Donkey & Goat rose (the liter bottle is a reasonable amount for a party of 6), and it was an excellent choice for late summer dining. Although the menu we consumed is only guaranteed to be served the month of August (menu items change seasonally), iterations of the mung bean pancake has been a mainstay for at least several different tasting menus. Whenever you go, you can trust yourself in Justin Yu’s capable hands.
We were seated at the largest table, a round wooden behemoth that seats six. My only wish for next time would be to seated at the bar, where you can gaze into the open kitchen the entire time, witness to Justin and company put the finishing touches on each faultless dish.