Best New Restaurant: Veritas Tavern
When you dine out for a living, it can start to feel like a chore. I sometimes feel as if I’m growing desensitized to good food. A perfectly cooked steak is lucky if it elicits a nod of approval. So when a dish is so extraordinary it inspires a small happy dance in my seat, well, I know I’ve stumbled upon something special.
That’s exactly what happened on my first visit to Veritas Tavern, as I dug into the first dish of many that would blow away my expectations. It was Corn + Beef + Cabbage + Smoke. Translated, that’s a base of sweet corn foam topped with wispy cabbage sprouts and a couple hunks of beef brisket.
Now, when it’s cooked improperly, as it often is, brisket can get really tough. When my fork sliced this meat clean through, it was the first clue this was in a whole different class. It was as fall-apart tender as if it had been smoked for 15 hours and was infused with a similar campfire flavor. But it was simultaneously juicy, like a cross between your grandma’s slow-cooked pot roast and brined-and-boiled corned beef (the traditional dish its name playfully references).
Turns out, that incredible texture was achieved by two weeks of brining, three days in a sous-vide water bath and a quick blast from a smoke gun—a potent one-two-three punch of tested cooking techniques.
Veritas wins top honors on the merits of its consistently excellent food, but also because these guys are gutsy enough to experiment with cutting-edge modern cooking and plating techniques without fretting about turning off unadventurous diners—and way out in Delaware, no less.
Visit after visit, I expected to be disappointed by … something. One restaurant can’t excel at so many dishes, right? But Veritas does.
And it’s not because the chefs have magic powers. Forget about the convenient buzzy label—molecular gastronomy—that everyone uses to talk about this place. In reality, Veritas is three guys who love food playing around in the kitchen with gadgets (the arsenal includes a Cryovac machine and an immersion circulator) until they get it just right—until it’s the very best beef brisket you’ve ever tasted.
Don’t get tripped up by the menu, either. On my first visit, I watched as two separate groups walked in, read through the menu and walked out. Don’t do that. Food like this requires a level of trust between the cook and the customer. So trust me when I say you should trust them.
Yes, you may be served a chicken quesadilla or a shrimp cocktail that bears zero resemblance to the dish with which it shares a name. No worries; you’ll still love it.
On the flip side, the kitchen uses tricks to turn even the most challenging dishes into crowd-pleasers. Sweetbreads feel instantly approachable after being breaded, fried and served nugget-style atop a bed of farro “risotto.” Foie gras is presented playfully with fruit jam and graham cookies. Cauliflower is pulverized into “couscous,” leeks are fried till they crunch like potato chips, and Brussels sprouts become decadent after they’re drenched in warm, spiced butter.
The drinks here haven’t gotten as much ink as the food, but they’re fantastic across the board—the giant list covers inventive cocktails, trendy punches and potent 22-ounce beer bombers.
SHOCK AND AWE
A chat with Josh Dalton, owner and chef at Veritas Tavern
How did Veritas Tavern come about?
I’ve been executive chef at 1808 American Bistro for four years, and I felt like I needed a different kind of creative outlet. A space came open a few doors down, and so we started talking with the landlord back in January (2012). We did everything on our own. There was a very strict budget in terms of how much we had to open.
How do you describe the cuisine?
Traditional cooking with modern techniques added in to make the food more delicious and make it look a little different. The ingredients we get are pristine. That’s half the battle. We get some of the best products you can possibly find and try not to mess them up.
The menu lists Avishar Barua and Silas Caeton as chefs. What does that make your role?
The way we do things, there’s no executive chef, no sous chef. It’s a collaboration between three people. We sit down virtually every day and decide what changes, what stays.
It’s definitely three nerds in the kitchen. We’ll be cooking together for hours, then we’ll talk food for another three hours, and then that night we’ll be calling each other with ideas.
The reason I don’t put my name on the menu—and I don’t at 1808 either—is with two restaurants, there’s a lot of time I’m not in the kitchen working the line. I want to give credit to the guys sweating, working the line.
What’s the strangest kitchen tool in your arsenal?
Tweezers. We don’t use tongs at all in the kitchen.
What’s next at Veritas?
We’re going to do charcuterie—Silas raised four Berkshire pigs, and we’re going to be breaking those down.
And what about future plans for you?
Without a doubt, I have plans of going to Columbus as soon as the opportunity presents itself. The kitchen at Veritas is a closet. I’d love to get into a bigger space, a bigger kitchen with room for more toys.
We’re still struggling with the question of, is Veritas right for Delaware? My thinking was always that if the food’s good enough, people will come. But it’s definitely been slow in the last few months. We might change a little of the format if I open up in Columbus.
When I get to Columbus, I definitely want to shock and awe people. So, for the next year at least, we have a playground—some time where we can work through ideas and have some fun playing around.