There's a tiny window of time each year between the fried food madness of festival season and the appetite-suppressing heat of summer when diners look for meals that are equal parts refreshing and healthy. Sprouting up in the Lower Garden District just in time for those halcyon days is Seed, the latest addition to the city's small but blossoming group of vegan-friendly restaurants and a worthwhile destination for garden-based dining year round.
While Seed falls firmly into the vegan camp — there are no meat options — the restaurant also is home to the city's largest raw menu, from a chunky, salsa-consistency raw chili (with the curious addition of dates) to a carrot "cupcake" dessert that is a testament to the vegetable's innate sweetness.
Eating raw is not for the unadventurous diner. Often, the texture, consistency and temperature (read: cold) of raw food make the experience off-putting for those who are accustomed to their meals being at least slightly altered from their natural state. Seed goes out of its way to make raw dishes that are colorful, beautifully plated and tempting — spotlighting how uncooked vegetables can be used in dishes more composed than a simple toss in a salad bowl.
Seed's dining room reflects the earthy nature of the menu, with gray wood paneling, colorful paintings of jungle critters and ample natural light, which makes the restaurant seem like an elegant courtyard. The rear bar is a little cramped, but Seed has created a space that lends itself to exploratory, root-to-sprout dining.
The restaurant's cocktail menu is an exercise in delicious self-delusion, with drinks that make imbibing seem like part of a juice cleanse. The Dooryard Bloomer is a none-too-sweet combination of basil, mint, vodka and fresh-squeezed blackberry juice that is perfectly crafted for sipping in the late afternoon sunshine. The deceptively simple Himalayan Salty Dog — a mixture of vodka and pulpy grapefruit juice in a pink salt-rimmed glass — would make the perfect indulgence after a long day at the spa.
An expansive number of menu options allows restaurant goers to choose diverse paths for their dining adventure, from "comfort" vegan food to drinking their meals with hand-pressed juices and smoothies — the Iron Infusion made with soy milk, black strap molasses, tahini and maple syrup is a decadent, fortifying standout.
For those looking to take the raw-food road less traveled, there are a few potholes along the way. A promising cauliflower soup with truffle oil has the consistency of hummus, but could be an outstanding cold soup for summer if slightly thinned.
The "breads and spreads" section offers an ideal way to sample a variety of vegan dips and explore one's raw food preferences. The carrot-ginger puree is bright and dense, with a punchy, understated zip of ginger, and the raw ranch is tangy, fresh and nothing like the gluey dressing from a Hidden Valley bottle. The raw onion flax bread as a sampling device, though, falls flat, with a texture somewhere between a limp cracker and a stale English muffin. Beet carpaccio has similar textural issues. Despite a beautiful pink-and-gold presentation, the beets are dry, chewy and would benefit from more time marinating with the accompanying capers and grape seed oil — especially for a $10 serving.
Seed excels at taking classically indulgent dishes and giving them a vegan makeover without sacrificing rib-sticking heartiness or flavor. The nachos would fit right in at a ballpark, with a smoky, roasted corn salsa that could serve as a bold side dish in and of itself. The eggplant po-boy — complete with thinly sliced, delicately cornmeal-battered eggplant and a smattering of roasted vegetables — is the perfect combination of known flavors and new ways of preparing old favorites.
If you're intent on a specific dish, be warned: the availability of items on the menu is spotty, and on any given night at least half a dozen dishes may be unavailable. However, if you're looking to add more roughage to your diet at one of the city's most tightly focused dining outlets, Seed is your go-to destination.