Beyond Vegan: Phillip Lee Highlights Veggies at The Gadarene Swine

The Scratch Bar chef’s meat-free Studio City restaurant opens September 9

The first thing you should know about The Gadarene Swine is that it’s not a rib joint or a pork belly-fueled gastropub. In fact, there are no meat or animal products on the menu at all. One of the most anticipated openings of the fall, Phillip Frankland Lee’s new restaurant is actually all about vegetables (even if it’s not being billed as a vegan restaurant), which are presented with haute cuisine flair, though the fact that courses are served in pots and planters—yes, the kind of planters that you plant plants in—does provide a rustic touch.

The concept for the small Studio City space is simple. Guests who opt for the eight-seat counter will be treated to an omakase-like experience with each dish plated by Chef Lee himself. Bar snacks, like garlic and thyme popcorn and stuffed fried, honey-drizzled olives begin the pre-fixe and are then followed by 10 courses that each have a singular focus, from eggplant to strawberries.

Inspired by his own dissatisfaction with many of L.A.’s vegan eating experiences, Lee (an omnivore who frequently eats vegan) ventured to build a flavor-focused menu where meat wouldn’t be missed—or even an issue. Instead, the Scratch Bar chef wanted to turn his attention to the healthful (and luscious) benefits of eating fresh greens. “It’s sort of the same analogy as not listening to your own band,” he says.

The result is a slew of artsy dishes with stick-to-your-ribs substance. Purees and mousses take the lead with whipped up mushrooms and sweet potatoes creating savory bases for tasting-sized portions that have no cream or butter to speak of. One standout is the tomato mayonnaise, a salty-sweet blend of tomatoes and olive oil that’s served with oil-brushed bread. Desserts (such as tres leches cake made with non-dairy milks) are made by Margarita Lee, Chef Lee’s wife.

Not all diners are expected to participate in the 10-course meal. Tables in the dining room, and eventually an outdoor patio, will order from a standard á la carte menu that features an almost entirely different set of dishes served at the counter. There will also be wine and beer service, plus a daily list of juices pressed from vegetable scraps and leftover produce from both of Lee’s restaurants.

Here’s what else Lee has to say about his new project, which will open for dinner on September 9:

Fallacy is the Name
The restaurant’s name has a deep lineage. The term began as a biblical reference and eventually inspired a philosophical fallacy called the Gadarene Swine, which incorrectly supposes that “because a group is in the right formation, it is necessarily on the right course.” Therefore, if an individual strays from the pack, it is easy to assume that the person is lost.  “Here my focus is on nutrition instead of innovative molecular gastronomy,” says Lee. “If you think of the things out there like bacon soap and toothpaste, my idea is not quite in line with the pack.”

Vegan is a Loaded Word
Honey is the only animal product I use (I heard that people now refer to themselves as ‘beegans’). But I generally don’t like to say the word because it’s become so politicized. The problem with most vegan restaurants is that they try to be something that they’re not. At The Gadarene Swine, we’re not making fake chicken wings or chorizo. The majority of that stuff is bad for you; it’s double-processed wheat and soy products. There’s a stigma attached to vegan restaurants too: they way they smell, the way they look. Our focus is on nutritious vegetables prepared in different ways. The thing is, I’m a red-blooded, meat-eating chef. But I want to introduce the average carnivore to eating vegetables. I got cancer a year and a half ago and I was put on a strict diet by my wife, who used to be a raw vegan. I needed a much less invasive surgery, and I attribute that to the health benefits from my diet during the time.”

Keeping it Simple
“We don’t use anything you wouldn’t be able to find at Vons. Not in terms of quality, but just in the sense that we serve regular household items that any person could get his or her hands on. So things like tomatoes, eggplant, button mushrooms, cauliflower, and other veggies along those lines. We’re not going to be using crazy gooseberries from Switzerland, or introducing new species or varieties that cost $95 per pound. I mainly use olive oil, lemon juice and sea salt. That’s my trifecta.  Not spices, just light and clean. Lots of dehydration and reductions.”

redarrow The Gadarene Swine, 11266 Ventura Boulevard, Studio City