Hi there! I’m Allie, and I’m an unapologetic foodie living in San Francisco, CA. I’ve always loved restaurants – eating at them, following restaurant trends, browsing menus and finding new places I’d like to try. A few years ago, I discovered whole30 and the power of a Paleo diet to transform how I feel physically and mentally. Today, I aspire to eat Paleo most of the time, but as I figure out my food freedom, I find that it often includes special, one of a kind dishes at restaurants I’ve been eager to try (if you are unfamiliar with the whole30 program and the concept of food freedom, I highly recommend reading up on them by clicking through the embedded links). Some of these dishes stick in my mind and won’t let me go. Here, I’m recreating them with Paleo ingredients, and streamlining them to better suit the style of the home cook. Read more below on how I came up with the idea – and thanks for dining with me!
Kabocha Squash Toast from ABC Kitchen
This is the recipe that started it all. The one that planted the seed in my head that it would be fun to take my favorite restaurant dishes and adapt them for home cooks on a blog. Like any good seed or idea, I nurtured it for several years (read: sat on it, procrastinated, and let self-doubt hold me back). In that time, I adopted a Paleo(ish) lifestyle, and found a new twist to the blog idea that finally gave me the conviction to go for it. I’m excited to be sharing some of these favorite dishes with you as I translate them to be home cook and Paleo friendly. And now, let’s travel back in time to 2010 to reminisce about the dish that started it all.
In my early foodie days, shortly after college when I had a big girl job and two nickels to rub together (but only two nickels, thanks great recession), my friends and I would ride the Bolt Bus from DC to New York for the weekend to visit friends while taking in all the great food and nightlife. One of those early trips led us to ABC Kitchen, the hot new restaurant by Jean Georges Vongerichten, helmed in the kitchen by Chef Dan Kluger. We snagged an absurdly late 10pm reservation, and took our bubbly but totally unsophisticated selves there for a trendy, if late, dinner.
We splurged on an appetizer, but it ended up being a revelation. Intrigued by the menu description “roasted kabocha squash toast, fresh ricotta and apple cider vinegar,” we asked the waiter for more of a description. I’d be remiss if I didn’t remind you that toasts were a mere twinkle in everyone’s eyes in 2010. Avocado toast hadn’t yet risen to prominence and created a whole new menu category, and so we needed some tutoring in what this offering was. The savory sweet flavor combination and the healthy yet indulgent angle were enough to give us conviction, and we placed our order.
What followed was a formative foodie moment for me. The dish was unlike anything I’d ever had. Elevating vegetables in a way more delicious than I had ever conceived, combining maple syrup, apple cider vinegar, squash, onions and ricotta in a way that was much greater than the sum of its parts. The mint – my goodness the mint. Never one to think much of mint besides its role in my least preferred ice cream flavor, I was delighted by how the sprinkle of fresh mint transformed the dish.
Once back in DC, I decided to email the restaurant to ask for the recipe – I couldn’t stop thinking about the dish, and figured if I had a blueprint I could make it at home. Those that know me know I’ve never been called patient, and I eagerly checked each new email notification after I sent in my request, hoping for a response. A mere 48 hours later I was rewarded. Chef Kluger personally took the time to write me back. Though he didn’t have a recipe the way us lay people think of recipes (on account of being a capable and wildly talented chef, and due to the realities of cooking on a restaurant scale), he walked me through it step by step, and shared the ingredients with me. It felt beyond cool that the chef himself had responded, and my roommate and I spent that fall and winter recreating the dish time and again. I’ve since visited ABC Kitchen on numerous occasions, and am always impressed with their farm to table dishes that are approachable yet unexpected.
The New York Times published the recipe in 2012 here, and Smitten Kitchen published her own adaptation in 2014, so I’m not going to reinvent the wheel yet again. The squash mash is already paleo friendly, and makes a great side dish. If you eat dairy or grains, I think this is a wonderful, “worth it” dish to navigate away from strict Paleo with.