Before you go to a new restaurant, what do you want — or need — to know most? In our series The Rundown, we’re sharing all the essentials about newly opened spots, as well as some of your favorites.
Up now: Planta Queen in NoMad, the first New York location of the growing plant-based empire from operator Steven Salm and chef David Lee, which was founded in Toronto in 2016 and has since expanded to include multiple outposts in and around Miami. Here’s everything you need to know about the Manhattan debut.
1. Planta Queen is one of several Planta concepts, specializing in Asian fusion cuisine.
This is the eighth restaurant in the Planta empire and the third location of Planta Queen, which focuses on Asian-inspired fare from sushi to small plates like bang bang broccoli and Peking jackfruit, dumplings, noodles, and fried rice. Other concepts include Planta Burger, Planta Cocina (Mexican), and the original namesake, where a mix of menu items from each concept are offered in addition to pizzas and pasta.
“The goal is to have a plant-based hospitality collective where we can advance the experience and the normalcy of plant-based dining so much that people could say, ‘I want to go for Mexican, I want to go for Asian, I want to go for sushi, I want to go for pizza, I want to go for Italian,’” Salm says. And the reasoning behind introducing Planta to New Yorkers with Queen had to do with real estate; this NoMad outpost is housed in a cavernous space with little natural light. “Planta Queen naturally has a little bit more of a sophisticated and darker element of design than the overarching signature Planta brand, which is a little bit more refreshing, lighter, and cleaner,” he adds. They’re already eyeing a piece of corner real estate in SoHo for a location of the signature Planta restaurant.
2. Opening in Miami helped Planta gear up for its New York closeup.
While New York restaurants like Carbone and Côte recently opened their doors in Miami, Planta took the opposite course, first settling in Florida before moving up north. Salm attributes this in part to the huge Canadian population that vacations in Miami, as they would be familiar with the Toronto venues.
“New York felt a little bit more serious,” he says. “And we wanted to establish the brand in a market where we had some Canadian tailwinds supporting us.” Still, they fell in love with Miami. “Dining out and convivial experiences are very much a part of the city’s ethos, just like it is in New York,” Salm adds. Taking the time to evolve and innovate the concept in Miami gave them the confidence to open in New York.
3. You won’t find Beyond or Impossible “meat” on the menu.
From a baked “crab” hand roll made with hearts of palm and spicy vegan mayo, to Singapore noodles tossed with yuba, bean sprouts, and asparagus, every dish at Planta Queen is crafted from fresh produce, legumes, grains, and spices from chef David Lee and his team. You won’t find Beyond Beef crumbles in the dan dan noodles or Impossible “meat” in any of the dumplings. “There isn’t anything synthetic in the cuisines of Planta,” Lee says.
He’s not trying to replicate meat products, either. Although the eggplant and watermelon ahi nigiri resemble the look of sushi made with unagi (eel) or tuna, they taste like the essence of the ingredients they’re made with.
4. The beverage program centers on cold-pressed juices.
To drink, cold-pressed juices are served straight or added to “free spirits” (mocktails) and cocktails. Salm describes the latter as “nourishing, but still a little bit mischievous.” For example, berry kombucha is added to the mojito while hibiscus-infused gin is paired with lychee liqueur and pineapple. The cheeky Herb Your Enthusiasm — one of Planta Queen’s most popular drinks — is composed of Thai chile-infused Tequila, Cointreau, lime, pineapple, and herb syrup. A tight selection of sake is available, as well.
5. David Lee’s most prized suppliers are local tofu vendors.
“One of the first things that I always ask my chefs when we open up a Planta Queen is: who is the local tofu vendor?” Lee says. Here in New York, that’s Fong On, a family-owned tofu shop in Chinatown that’s been around since the 1930s.
It’s not just that tofu factors largely in Planta Queen’s menu, but also that independent local shops remind Lee of his childhood. He was born in England, but mostly grew up on an island off the southeast coast of Africa called Mauritius, where artisan tofu makers were common. “The process is so pure, it’s very different from mass-produced tofu,” he says.
6. You can dine in a subterranean speakeasy lounge called The Dragon’s Den.
Underneath the dining room, the Dragon’s Den lounge is open for à la carte and private dining. “It has all the elements of a traditional speakeasy — a beautiful bar, low seating, and red velvet booths,” Salm says. There’s also a neon-lit dragon on the wall. When you make book your table, be sure to have a drink (or at least a peek) down under, as the speakeasy is what makes the first New York location of Planta special.
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