At Blossom & Root restaurant in Danville, you can jumpstart a New Year’s resolution to stay healthy by tasting upscale vegan food.
After we indulge in turkey and holiday festivities, the January push for better eating and drinking habits begins.
In addition to popular Dry January, Veganuary, a UK non-profit launched in 2014, supports plant-based, no meat and no dairy lifestyles. Meat influencers take note—Veganuary offers a free celebrity cookbook if one makes a one-month pledge to eat less meat.
Susan Virgilio, the owner of Blossom & Root, didn’t open her first restaurant because of an association with a vegan movement. While raising four kids in Danville, Virgilio wasn’t focused on objecting to factory farms or saving the planet. At age 15, her daughter Sally turned to the principles of veganism and influenced her family to follow suit.
Though an avid vegan home cook, Virgilio’s background is in science and math. With input from Sally, now a chef at plant-based, Michelin starred KLE restaurant in Zurich, she decided to share her passion for healthy food with her local community. Her senior staff—chef, general manager, and bar manager—are all vegans.
My dining partner only agreed to join me if seitan, a wheat gluten product, was not on the menu. I assured him it was not. Demonstrating that vegan food is no longer focused primarily on kale, tofu, and fake meat,
Blossom & Root replaces common meat-dominated foods with plant-forward versions and offers imaginative takes on familiar vegetable, fruit, and grain ingredients.
Virgilio equates the experience of running her first restaurant to solving a dynamic puzzle. “It is a challenge to procure fresh, local items from producers who can deliver frequently due to our small kitchen. We opened in August, and our menu has evolved along with the season,” said Virgilio.
Developing the ambiance at Blossom & Root was the easy piece of Virgilio’s puzzle. The décor at the entrance patio showcases birds and plants.
The red-shingled building displays a Danville Hotel sign that references the former building at 411 Hartz Ave. which offered accommodation for railroad workers and visitors until the 1930s. Inside, the wall coverings feature hovering hummingbirds on a peach background. Carrots dangle across the wall from the open kitchen space near the many living plants. I half expected to see a baby bunny hop over to the table.
I asked Virgilio if she purchased any special kitchen equipment to handle the food prep. She said the least common product is a dehydrator, a favorite tool of bar manager Joe Steiner.
At the restaurant Steiner recommended the Pomegranate Cloud cocktail. The menu description looked straightforward: “effervescent tempranillo, blood orange, pomegranate foam.” Studded with pomegranate seeds and presented in an appealing old-fashioned glass, the drink held several secrets.
The curly garnish resting on a sage leaf was a piece of dehydrated pomegranate skin. For the foaming agent, Steiner replaced egg white with aquafaba, the protein-packed liquid from cooked or canned chickpeas. To balance the tart juice, the bartender added a dash of late harvest Sauvignon Blanc.
After previewing the website’s beverage menu, my friend was chafing at the bit to sip Horse and Plough Farmhouse Cider.
The menu presents starters, shareables and entrées. Labeled as a starter, the maple-glazed Brussels sprouts, packed with kaffir lime leaves, onions, Thai chili, and Thai basil, and sautéed in house-made garlic confit infused oil, were quite shareable.
Popular dishes include the B & R burger, made with chickpeas, black beans, and shiitakes, and the masa cake with blue corn maseca flour, braised cannellini beans and candied squash. But we didn’t order them. Though the bread plate with house-made seed bread and sourdough from East Bay Bakery in Danville looked inviting, we also deferred.
Curious about the “bleu cheese” accompanying the bread, we asked for a taste. Unlike some bland vegan cheese products, the “cheese” was savory with a blue veined texture like the dairy version. Developed using digital analytics and AI, the product was released this year from Climax food technology company in Berkeley and manufactured from vegetable oils, non-GMO seeds and legumes.
The mac n’ cheese shareable plate was entrée sized. The Chef uses Violife cheese with nutritional yeast, potatoes, and carrots to flavor the sauce and crispy onions to add textural contrast.
Our entrée was a shared funghi sando. The B&R branding on the house-made roll serves as an emotional tug to familiar beefburgers cooked over a fired-up grill. We gobbled down the crispy maitake sandwich. Served with pickled jalapeños, charred chili jam and potato salad or pesto pasta with vegan “parmesan,” this sandwich is umami-memorable.
For dessert, we liked the creamy chia pudding with cashew lemon purée. The big fat chocolate chip cookie quickly disappeared.
Though I don’t expect to go plant-based in January, I will return to Blossom & Root for more surprises. A well-prepared, tasty vegan meal is worth pursuing any time.
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