Last year was a milestone year for Planta (850 Commerce Street) with the March 2018 opening of its South Beach location and subsequent stream of clientele showing up at the hot spot for its meatless menu. The Canadian transplant, a partnership between Toronto’s Chase Hospitality and David Grutman’s Groot Hospitality, has emerged as a significant influence on the Miami culinary landscape, offering a fresh perspective on vegan food.
Planta South Beach chef de cuisine and Eater’s chef of the year, Benjamin Goldman, credits timing as well as quality to Miami’s warm reception. He tells Eater, “People underestimate the sophistication and talent of Miami’s culinary scene. Miami has been the underdog for the past five years, but now locals and out-of-towners are looking for restaurants with substance as well as flair.”
While there’s no lack of flair at the trendy eatery with its sleek and tropical design, but it is the restaurant’s substance that seems to resonate most with the Miami crowd. Among a handful of vegan and vegetarian restaurants in the city — and the only one on the Eater 38— Planta brings a unique approach to vegan dining, distinguishing itself from other establishments.
Rather than focusing on unfamiliar dishes made from texturized soy proteins, Goldman and Planta executive chef David Lee base their recipes on the dishes Americans already know and love like burgers, mac and cheese, and sushi. Goldman explains, “We don’t cater solely to vegans or plant-based eaters. They will come anyway. We cater to the doubters who wouldn’t have otherwise considered eating plant-based foods.”
As a recent convert to a veganlifestyle, making the jump over two years ago, Goldman aims to recreate the flavors he enjoyed most before altering his diet. He explains, “I missed eating butter. I love the taste of butter in a grilled cheese sandwich, so I created something.” It is this firsthand understanding of mainstream tastes and his ability to replicate them that allow him to satisfy both skeptics and enthusiasts of plant-based cuisine.
Integrating lessons from past kitchen experiences (at well-known Miami restaurants like Talula and Komodo and Boston’s acclaimed Uni) with Lee’s techniques, Goldman creates meat-free versions of everything from pizza to sushi. “Planta is a great restaurant that just happens to be plant-based,” he explains.
With a flavor-first mentality and no misconceptions about the American palette, he recognizes that “Americans are very meat-heavy people.” But in appreciating the benefits a vegetable-focused diet has yielded in own life, Goldman hopes his role at Planta will help inspire change, elaborating “…there’s a lot that goes into that meat — energetically, spiritually, and scientifically. What we ultimately feel depends on our diet.”
As 39 percent of Americans actively try to eat more plant-based foods (according to a 2018 Nielsen Homescan survey), a higher consciousness about individual consumption patterns is more apparent now than ever. Goldman asserts, “Ultimately we have no choice. There are 7 billion people on this planet. The human population can’t live off animals forever. We are making a change.”
And if change begins with a tasty meal at Planta, Goldman achieves his goal, telling Eater, “We’re not trying to save the world. But low-key something is happening. Something is going around. People are catching on.”