Perched on the third floor of the Orange County Museum of Art (OCMA), Verdant restaurant is an integral part of the overall museum experience. OCMA’s mission is to transform the way people think about Orange County and to that end, the food and drinks served at the restaurant, along with the ground floor cafe and coffee bar, echo a similar sentiment. Behind the stoves are longtime OC chefs Ross Pangilinan of Long Beach’s ReMix and Terrace by Mix Mix at South Coast Plaza, and Nick Weber of French bistro Populaire at South Coast Plaza. Verdant debuts with a limited menu on Saturday, October 8 to coincide with OCMA’s grand opening.
Designed by Morphosis Architects, the 75-seat dining room is minimally appointed with light wooden decor punctuated by Danish-style light fixtures and macrame textiles. The restaurant’s glass walls fold back, opening up to a veranda that overlooks oak trees and the plaza below.
Verdant’s menu is a collaboration between Pangilinan and Weber, and leans mostly vegetarian with an emphasis on fermentation. Koji, an East Asian rice fungus, appears in a green goddess dressing for a farmers market crudite with chickpea miso. An entree-sized koji-roasted acorn squash with shelling beans, mushrooms, and roasted endive is sauced with an earthy porcini puree. Side dishes, including smashed cucumbers with rose wine vinegar and lacto-fermented garlic; and potato chips with a vegan onion dip, double as fun bar snacks.
Even Verdant’s more straightforward dishes, like avocado toast and a little gem salad, are executed with panache. The medium-boiled egg-topped avocado toast is dressed with heirloom tomatoes and crunchy chile garlic bits. The baby gem salad with avocado gets a punch of protein from toasted farro tossed with a preserved lemon vinaigrette. A house-made farmer’s cheese is drizzled with olive oil and flavored with fresh mint leaves, lacto-fermented chiles, crispy elephant garlic, and crunchy crostini. Though the menu is mostly vegetarian and vegan at the direction of the museum’s CEO and director Heidi Zuckerman, diners have the option of adding on proteins such as beef tenderloin and salmon.
Zuckerman and the museum’s board selected Pangilinan and Weber to oversee Verdant due to their extensive experience catering large-scale events and willingness to collaborate with artists in residence. With the museum’s education annex connected to the restaurant, Verdant lends itself to special exhibitions and culinary demonstrations. Zuckerman plans for the museum’s visiting artists to collaborate with the chefs to create special dining experiences, from artist-influenced dishes to dedicated tasting menus and specialty cocktails. As Zuckerman sees it, Verdant will allow the museum to continue the conversation with its visitors through food and change the way people experience Orange County’s cultural scene.