Wellness

Le Botaniste: SoHo's Best New Vegan Restaurant

by Alexandra Ilyashov
11.28.2017
In the price-point echelons of Chopt and Sweetgreen, this new plant-based takeaway restaurant, from the founder of Le Pain Quotidien, stands apart in every way.

A new Belgian import is poised to reinvigorate the SoHo lunch grind and downtown post-work casual wine bar catch-up. After opening in February 2016 on the UES, Le Botaniste’s vegan and gluten-free menu arrived in SoHo (127 Grand St) in October. Le Botaniste’s founder, Alain Coumont, is the mastermind behind the carefully curated aesthetic and menu at a ubiquitous breakfast meeting and easy lunch date mainstay–he’s the founder and creative head of Le Pain Quotidien.

“Being part-time plant-based, I found it very difficult when eating out to find what I was craving, and very few places offer organic plant-based foods that are convenient,” Coumont says of the impetus behind launching Le Botaniste. “Good nutrition has been proven to be preventive medicine, and less animal protein and more veggies is an easy step.” He saw a void for vegan and vegetarian dining in terms of an accessible, unfussy “chef-inspired menu without falling into too much sophistication."

Le Botaniste first launched in Belgium before arriving stateside, as did Le Pain Quotidien, which set up shop in Brussels in 1990. “There are no significant differences between the locations except the rent charges,” Coumont notes of Le Botaniste’s outposts on both sides of the pond. The aim at his newest venture is “pure, practical and surprising” fare, served speedily, in a “relaxed, feel-good environment.” While the pricing is akin to, say, Chipotle or Sweetgreen, Coumont eschews the fast-casual description for something a bit elevated but still approachable, just like the vibe at Le Botaniste – “quality convenient dining”. The set-up seems to be working–half of customers at the eatery’s various locations are repeat visitors, per Coumont.

The menu of “prescriptions” is fully organic and plant-based, gluten-free, and sans any grilling or frying. Dishes, which skew more affordable than Le Pain Quotidien, are cooked at low temperatures, and 40% of dishes are raw. It’s also seasonally-driven fare, so expect updates to the menu throughout the year (and as new ideas arise–Coumont tastes the entire menu at least once a week, in order to fine-tune and evolve the menu).

Appetizers, dubbed small bowls, ring in at $7 to $9, and include red beet “caviar,” potato bacalao, or seaweed tartare (the latter is a bestseller that’s “easy to share with friends over a glass of natural wine,” Coumont says), all of which can also be turned into full-on meals via customized bowls. The selection of large bowls, priced at $14, include the popular coconut peanut butter curry-topped brown rice Tibetan Mama Bowl, served with steamed greens and kimchi, Dirty Noodle Soup, beautifully-constructed vegan sushi with a duo of piquant dipping sauces, and spicy chili, along with virtuous dessert choices like raw key lime pie.

While Le Botaniste makes for a great grab-and-go lunch situation, the ambiance will make you skip a rushed cubicle meal and linger over that tagine or super seed-encrusted avocado. “A 19th century apothecary [atmosphere] is the best way to deliver our food prescriptions,” explains Coumont. The throwback aesthetic takes shape thanks to dark wood-bedecked space, accented with checkerboard floors, creamy marble detailing, and shelves of glass jars filled with grains and spices, alongside actual amber- and olive-hued apothecary bottles.  The employees’ getups are equally on-theme. “Our team members are dressed in white lab coats with camouflage bandanas.”

Le Botaniste’s second U.S. location, on Grand Street just east of Broadway, was spurred in part by customer requests at the uptown outpost for a downtown presence, and also because of the neighborhood’s enduring desirability – “SoHo will always be SoHo,” Coumont says. Next up, Le Botaniste will roll out breakfast and brunch in 2018; a new location in NYC as well as another spot in Brussels are also on the docket for next year.

Sure, it’s definitely the kind of spot that attracts yoga mat-toting wellness devotees in droves, along the lines of Hu Kitchen or Dr. Smood. But even carnivorous types are apparently impressed by the flavorful yet healthful fare, especially when it comes to pasta al Mafiosi, comprised of gluten-free fusilli with Bolognese sauce (vegan, of course), basil dressing, and gomasio (a sesame-salt mix), according to Coumont: “Our number-one response from meat-eaters when we have them try our pasta is, ‘Oh wow, I wasn’t expecting this!’”

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