The Vandal, located in central Lawrenceville, has undergone many transformations since its opening in 2015. After completing renovations last year, they settled on a casual, European café vibe. With their minimalistic art and new bar setup, they’ve definitely achieved this design-wise. After tasting their new summer menu, I can assure you that the food accomplishes this as well.
Something that hasn’t changed about The Vandal is the eclectic nature of their menu. There are typically appetizers, a salad, pasta and some mains, but they are always unique and inventive. The menu is always changing, which I don’t always love, but at The Vandal it works. Their menu is never boring and is cognizant of seasonality, which is key. I have been to The Vandal many times over the years and, in my opinion, their current summer menu is one of the best menus they have ever produced.
I ordered a variety of dishes and every single one was phenomenal. That rarely happens. Typically, one dish stands out above the rest, but each dish was superb and kept getting better.
When I first looked at their menu, it was hard to narrow down what I wanted to order. Everything looked that good. My dining partner and I started with the oysters with a yuzu and cucumber mignonette. I’m a big fan of oysters and was excited to taste this unique take on the traditional mignonette. The oysters, which were from the Delaware Bay, were some of the biggest oysters I’ve ever seen. While The Vandal doesn’t have any hand in making the oysters, I was impressed by the quality. The oysters were plump and mild, which made them perfect for the flavorful mignonette. The yuzu, a citrus from East Asia, gave the oysters a brightness that enhanced the flavor and the cucumber added a nice freshness.
Arancini are my guilty pleasure, so when I saw them on their menu, I knew I had to try their take on them. Sometimes arancini can be too rich and even greasy, but The Vandal’s version evaded these problems. The arancini were so crispy, while the inside contrasted with cheesy perfection. The parmesan fondue paired with these only enhanced the salty, savory flavors, while the addition of spring peas and carrots eased the richness of the dish.
The next dish I tasted was the steak tartare with preserved ramps and potato chips. The use of ramps here added a subtle allium flavor that enhanced the savoriness of this dish. Steak tartare is typically served with crostini, but The Vandal adds a touch of whimsy to their version by using airy potato chips. The difference in contrast between the tartare and chips was heaven in my mouth.
For me, the star of this outstanding meal was the nettle gnocchetti with morel mushrooms in sherry cream. Nettles are flowering plants that taste like a mix between spinach and cucumber when cooked. Here they were incorporated into the pasta dough to make it green, while also providing a fresh flavor. Gnochetti was a pasta shape I wasn’t familiar with, but it’s similar to gnocchi with ridges on the outside. The morel mushrooms added both a nutty flavor and a meaty texture, which helped make it hearty. This dish screamed spring to me.
My dining partner and I had to indulge in dessert after our meal. I’m a big ice cream sundae fan, and The Vandal’s take on the traditional ice cream sundae was unreal. The sundae has chocolate panna cotta, hazelnut ice cream, brûléed banana, a bacon fat sable cookie, salted caramel & whipped cream. It’s decadent to say the least! All of the different textures complemented each other, especially the crunchy brûléed banana, roasted hazelnuts, and silky hazelnut ice cream. The mix of salty and sweet is a tried-and-true combination, which The Vandal uses to their advantage. This sundae couldn’t possibly be anything but delicious.
There were so many tantalizing items on The Vandal’s menu that I’m hoping I get the chance to try, such as the foie mousse, little gem salad, and grilled asparagus with ramp pesto and hollandaise. You definitely don’t want to miss this menu, so be sure to make your reservations immediately by visiting https://www.thevandalpgh.com.