By Claudie Benjamin
Imagine a creative who travels the world inspired by the sights, sounds and aromas he encounters but he’s flummoxed by the lack of one fundamental thing he cares passionately about. It seems almost impossible to find plant-based food that can be enjoyed in a special, even extraordinary oasis. He’s a successful, forward thinking entrepreneur, neither a student backpacker nor a snobbish elitist, he just wants something delicious to eat, variety from which to choose and all this enjoyed with a touch of wit, in an inspiring setting.
Well, this man, a Belgian named Alain Coumont decided to meet the challenge he was encountering by creating his own restaurant(s) Le Botaniste which have an outstanding variety of very fresh, delicious plant-based foods, and organic wines. You also find yourself in a joyful je ne sais quoi atmosphere and Green-evoking setting. The menu options are cleverly termed, “Prescriptions.” Le Botaniste on the Upper West Side is at 156 Columbus Avenue.
While Alain travels the world, his small leadership team manages the four restaurants in Manhattan and three in Belgium. Alizee Wyckmans a young Belgian woman, first came to NY on a visit. Stopping for lunch at the Le Botaniste located on Lexington Avenue, by chance she met Laurent Francois, Le Botaniste CEO whom she describes as “driven leader” and was offered a job. “So, I crossed the ocean”. She moved to New York, settled in Brooklyn, and shuttles, as do other team members, between the Manhattan restaurants. “To make sure the look of the restaurant, the food preparation and the setting is all as it should be.”
The design concept for the setting combines the feeling of a 19th Century pharmacy with antique-looking, colored medicine bottles, striking 19th Century botanical prints of vegetables and fruit, with a contemporary, clever, quirky aesthetic that conveys Euro-originality.
Infused into this idea is a wonderfully varied menu of savory, healthy, delicious options. Deceptively, this all seems effortlessly classy and casually elegant. Actually, it’s a meticulously thought-out concept that offers a treat to enjoy at any time of the day. Alizee sees people having a breakfast of an Apple Volcano (apple, cinnamon, chia, flax seeds and cashew cream) and tea side-by-side with someone having a bowl of Tibetan Mama (brown rice, coconut curry sauce, steamed greens and kimchi) for lunch and another sipping a glass of organic red wine along with Mezze (an assortment of spreads and crackers) for an afternoon break.
The basic fare consists of pre-designed “bowls” or those designed by customers themselves. These bowls contain mouthwatering offerings like the Vegetable Tagine, a Moroccan stew with quinoa, potatoes, and lemon harissa or a Spicy Chili Sin Carne (brown rice, 3 beans, quinoa, ersatz sour cream and turmeric onions.)
Some dishes are regularly on the menu. There are also seasonal specials. The idea is not to replicate meat dishes but to serve something beautiful that’s plant-based. “Dinner therapy,” Alizee suggests. It’s affordable too. A bowl and small glass of wine costs $20. Hours are 11:00am- 9:00pm.