This week, Besha Rodell reviews Erven, chef Nick Erven’s vegan restaurant in Santa Monica. The chef is most known for his time as the lead at Koreatown’s celebrated (albeit relatively short-lived) Saint Martha, where he “showcased [his] talent for inventive cooking that was fun but also elegant.” Erven’s work at his new vegan eatery, however, is met with more mixed reviews.
Some of the dishes demonstrate “that same playfulness and bright creativity that made Saint Martha so appealing:”
You'd be wise to order the chickpea fritters, turned inky with the addition of activated charcoal and black garlic. The severely square snacks possess a subtle, roasty sweetness, which is offset by the zing of yuzu. Many of Erven's best dishes rely on this kind of acidity, which seems to come from left field in the best possible way. Soft tofu arrives in a bowl under a flurry of almost-charred Brussels sprout leaves — a nice textural juxtaposition — but the real thrill is the puckery one-two punch of pickled garlic ponzu and lime-cured onion. [LAW]
Other dishes are far from creative:
For all of Erven's creativity, there are dishes here that taste like what you might make if you threw everything from your farmers market box into a pot and hoped for the best. A farro and black-eyed pea hot pot, with braised greens and preserved tomato, was a little too much like the communal house vegan meals I had far too many of as the child of hippies.
Savory bread pudding, topped with mushroom chili, broccoli and spicy squash, was a little more texturally decadent. "This tastes like what they might serve at the best vegetarian restaurant in San Francisco, circa 1984," I said to my tablemates. I'm not sure what I meant, exactly, except that the dish could only be viewed generously with a number of caveats in place: The bread pudding was fine for vegetarian food; for vegan food; for pre-Ubuntu; for the pre–veggie worship era. For 2017, for Nick Erven? It's just OK. [LAW]
The critic explains that after Saint Martha, she was hoping Erven would evolve into “a chef more fully formed and steady,” but the move to cook with vegan restrictions “seems clumsy in comparison with the weird elegance of Saint Martha.”
B. Rod concludes her two star review of the restaurant hoping to see more from the chef:
Limitations are certainly capable of spurring creativity. But sometimes they're just limiting. Erven the restaurant is worthy on its own terms, particularly for those guests who actually are vegan. But I do hope to see a broader, caveat-free effort sometime soon from Erven the man. [LAW]