At Moruno and Avec Nous, Whole Vegetable Is the New Whole Animal

If you can rotisserie cook a chicken, why not a cabbage?

When Chris Feldmeier was working on the menu for his new restaurant Moruno, the spot he and David Rosoff opened at the Original Farmers Market, he wanted to incorporate the flavors of Spain. The two Mozza and Campanile vets ate and drank their way through the country for inspiration, but really didn’t want to do tapas. So instead of featuring small bites of food to go with the excellent wine, vermouth and cocktails, he did exactly the opposite and went big.

You can get whole flame-cooked chickens, flattened crispy-skinned loup de mer with head and tail still intact, and even rotisserie cauliflower at the bustling casual spot.  That’s right: Feldmeier, a traditional nose-to-tail chef, didn’t just go whole hog; he went whole vegetable.

“When you go to the farmers market, there are these beautiful whole vegetables that a lot of people cut down to practically a garnish,” Feldmeier says. “I wanted to accentuate the vegetables as a the are, not just the pieces.”

These larger format dishes, things you can share with everyone at the table, mimic the rustic feel of Moruno. One of Feldmeier’s signature and most unique items is the spit-roasted cabbage. He turns whole heads for four or five hours over a wood-fueled fire, which completely transforms the sturdy leafy greens: The outer layer gets charred and crispy while the inside becomes sweet and tender. The wedges are topped with a tangy yogurt sauce studded with fermented crimini mushrooms. “We needed to add something swampy to cut the sweetness,” the chef says.

There’s also butternut squash that’s halved, roasted in the oven, and then finished on the flat-top grill so the outer ring is blackened and caramelized. A whole half, which can be a medium- to large-sized squash, comes to the table swimming in brown butter and a nutty, seeded dukkah Feldmeier makes in-house. It’s the pinnacle of no-waste cooking: You eat the flesh, the skin, everything.

“I’m not telling people how to eat this, but just about everyone eats the whole thing,” he says. “It’s one of the best compliments, that I’m making the skin as edible as the flesh.”

Whole vegetables like roasted carrots, beets and cauliflower aren’t entirely new around town, but they are gaining a stronghold on menus, often given the same treatment as their meatier brethren. At Avec Nous, the new contemporary French bistro that recently opened restaurant at L’Ermitage Hotel in Beverly Hills, features a whole cauliflower that’s carved tableside, just like a côte de boeuf for two.

Chef Olivier Quignon, who most recently worked at Bar Boulud in New York City, roasts the whole vegetable with vadouvan, a hand-blended French curry, and serves it with a golden raisin puree and Marcona almonds from a cart—a really cool one made from a butcher block attached to bicycle wheels like you’d see in France. Servers carve and plate the vegetable to order, just like they would a giant steak.

“We cut around the stalk of cauliflower to release the florets, all of which is split equally on each dish,” says restaurant director Conrad Reddick. “The stalk itself is remarkably tender which is a terrific contrast to the caramelized flavor of the florets from the oven.”

With so much flourish, this really is one vegetable that’s treated like an entrée. It’s priced a such, too: $58. That’s one expensive head of cauliflower.

“Keep in mind that this is a tableside dish meant for two (or can event feed four),” Reddick adds. “A lot of love and care goes into it.”