One winter day of 2014, I got majorly lost in the streets of South Williamsburg. I was on “funemployment” and had the wonderful idea to walk all the way across the East River and explore. From the West Village. On a snowy day. Without a functioning GPS (damn iPhone updates 😡 ). I was on my way to check out my friend’s new high-rise condo with “amazing” views of the Williamsburg Bridge, but found myself going astray in the middle of $10 barber shops, wannabe-hipster tourists, Yiddish storefronts signs and reggaeton blasting SUVs instead. In the midst of my going around in circles, I remember peaking into a semi-open door of a “newly opened Vegetarian fine-dining restaurant” called Semilla. What caught my attention was the oak-wood U-shaped counter that looked like it was a chef’s table restaurant (I ♥ chef’s tables). I had kind of forgotten about it. But soon after, all the foodie reviews were headlining Semilla as “the next great restaurant” this and “the new best restaurant” that. One year and one-Michelin star later, I finally got dinner reservations at the highly acclaimed Semilla.
Semilla is a 18-seat restaurant offering intimate dining in a clean, modern space, with a wood trim design, and comfortable lighting for a relaxed atmosphere.The horseshoe shaped layout promotes a casual, interactive meal, overlooking a tiny kitchen at the end in which the cooks are in plain sight (I ♥ open kitchen). Despite the small space, it doesn’t feel cramped. The vibe is chill and laid back (with a touch of hipster of course), with Brazilian samba music playing in the background (don’t ask why – but it worked).
I was super excited to try the 10-course $85 ”vegetable-forward” tasting menu, especially after my experience at Blue Hill at Stone Barns (bring it on, veggies!). I tried looking for the menu online, but Semilla has a daily-changing tasting based on the freshest availability from their local farmers (I ♥ farm-to-table). You’ll only get a glimpse of the detailed menu the next morning by email. In all the reviews I had read beforehand, I had never seen one same dish mentioned twice, so I couldn’t wait to be surprised (I ♥ surprise menus).
Semilla is not a vegetarian restaurant per se, as you will get some meat accents to complement the vegetables dishes. As they put it, the vegetables are the star, and the meats and fish are just “supporting roles”. You can ask in advance to substitute to a strictly vegetarian meal, and they will accommodate most allergies and dietary restrictions.
With all the praise and Chefs José Ramírez-Ruiz’s and Pam Yung’s impressive resumes (previously at Brooklyn Fare, Per Se, Roberta’s and Isa back in the old days when it was ah-mazing) I had high hopes. And I can happily say Semilla exceeded my picky expectations. Although I thoroughly enjoy a vegetarian (or vegan) meal from time to time, I do find it harder to be wowed by a dish without something a little higher up on the food chain (I ♥ my protein). You will not miss the meat at Semilla – every dish was wildly creative and satisfying. Every plate looked a lot more simple than it tasted, with an element of surprise in every single one of them. Even a dish as basic as Potatoes with Onion and Meyer Lemon was unforeseen in flavor. The most ingenious part of Semilla’s cuisine is the excellent mix of contrasting textures.
Despite the 10 courses, the portions are small and the overall meal is on the light side – unless you binge on several servings of the ridiculously delicious Sourdough Bread with Cowbella Butter and Buttermilk like some might had done 😳 . As a respectable Frenchie, I ♥ my bread, but I’m telling you, Chef Yung put crack on the yeast (or was it the buttermilk..?)!
The only major con would be that the food plating is not that visually appealing – or maybe my Canon EOS and I just weren’t lucky that night 🙁 .
Make sure you check out the restrooms – no panic, it’s a one-way mirror 😉
Drinks wise, you can choose to go with a $60 wine pairing, or have the sommelier suggest a bottle from their eccentric beer and wine menu (ours used the term “funky” a lot to describe his wine selection). Options for wines by the glass are limited.
The seating of guests is timed so that diners are not served all at once and get all the attention they deserve. Service was friendly but not intrusive. I would even say it was pretty discrete considering this was a chef’s table. Going more into detail rather than simply naming the ingredients would have been appreciated, but I didn’t mind it as long as the food service was prompt and pleasant.
The full dinner price is charged for cancellations less than 3 days in advance!
Semilla is a great fit into the new cuisine trend that promotes salutary dietary habits and against planet waste. Despite the hefty price tag, it is overall a good value for the number of courses factoring in the unique creativity and the quality of ingredients. (I ♥ Semilla).
Come here with your veggie foodie friends, for a special date or anniversary.
Reservations are available online up to 30 days in advances, for parties up to 4 people.
Open Tues-Sat for dinner from 6pm.