One way to judge if a restaurant has range is to look at its treatment of vegetables. Deep-frying animal proteins into crispy nuggets or crisping up another slab of braised pork belly for the plate are low-risk moves with high satisfaction rates. Taking vegetables seriously by giving one a starring role in a dish isn’t something every restaurant dares try. Sorry, french fries don’t count.
At Buffalo Proper, chef Edward Forster offers a cauliflower head, roasted whole, so that when it arrives you can carve it like a small ham. (If the cauliflower heads he’s getting are on the large side, you get half a head.) It’s dressed with spicy yogurt, vanilla sesame sauce and more.
“The idea of taking the cauliflower and using it in a meatier way was a lot of the fun of that idea, to get people to look at vegetables with something with more substance and less of a side, something that goes under their meat,” Forster said. He’s tried the roasted cauliflower head at Fat Pasha in Toronto, and developed his own version.
At Buffalo Proper, cauliflower heads are first seared in a pan with oil and a touch of butter, then roasted, which can take an hour.
Spicy yuzu koshu, which is a citrus pepper paste based on Japanese fruit and chiles, is pureed into thick strained yogurt with cilantro, parsley, lime juice, salt and honey.
Forster also makes a vanilla tahini, by simmering sesame seeds until they get soft, then pureeing them with vanilla oil and seeds, and sesame oil.
Don’t think it’s sweet just because the menu lists vanilla, though. “The connotation is that vanilla is sweet, so when you smell it you think ‘sweet,’ because you’re used to seeing it in sweet applications. So it’s a little bit of an olfactory system trick. You smell it and you think sweetness, but the palate doesn’t really pick it up. The cauliflower actually gets its sweetness from the caramelization,” Forster says.
The dish gets texture from gomasio, a traditional Japanese rice-topper, essentially a seasoned salt with a core of roasted sesame seeds. Then it’s finished with cilantro leaves.
“I’ve been surprised by how well it sells,” Forster said of the $8 small plate. “Something like hanger steak, you anticipate that’ll sell well, but the cauliflower has taken people by surprise, how much flavor you pack into it, and how meaty the cauliflower becomes.”
Info: Buffalo Proper, 333 Franklin St. (783-8699, www.buffaloproper.com)