Simply put, Nutshell is defined by what it serves, not what it doesn't. It seems that most vegan and vegetarian restaurants bow to an unseen pressure to do whatever it takes to make their key ingredients taste as close to meat as possible. Granted, faux-meat dishes can be fun, and a handy method to help ease the transition from carnivore to leaf-eater—but by constantly aping a category of food that is the polar opposite of one's own, the herbivore genre grows stagnant and doesn't naturally evolve.
Of course, there are numerous exceptions to this rule: Blossoming Lotus' menu is both inventive and healthy, while Veganopolis does a stellar job of wooing the downtown business crowd into eating a cruelty-free lunch. Now it's time to add Nutshell to that list. The recently opened all-vegan restaurant by the owners of ten01 and Tabla flourishes under the wild imagination of Chef Sean Coryell.
While Nutshell is exclusively vegan, you wouldn't know it from their menu, as the "v" word doesn't make an appearance. Not that it matters, as the menu is absolutely bizarre, if not a bit overwhelming. Meat and potato diners and longtime vegans alike will be unfamiliar with almost every dish offered, as Coryell's kitchen creativity borders on pure madness. This is compounded by the fact that Nutshell offers a separate bread/salt/olive oil menu. Throw in the wine menu as well, and a table for two is covered in more paperwork than an accountant's desk on April 14. The bread menu can be absolutely baffling to comprehend, so either consult the staff for help, or just throw caution to the wind and order randomly. It's bread/salt/oil—how could you go wrong?
The appetizers are less confusing, but only because there are just two options. The impressive poblano-sorrel fundido is a hearty starter—think a less-restrained hummus with a whole lot more flavor—served alongside Coryell's 100-grain bread. (If you doubt the triple digit ingredients, he'll bring the list to your table.) On the other end of the appetizer spectrum is the Tunisian brik, which sounds like street slang for heroin—or at the very least, sounds heavy. Instead, a light phyllo crust surrounds spinach that has been slow-cooked over three days, accompanied by a generous dollop of harissas sauce.
One highlight of the entrée menu is a raw living lasagna, which is an inventive dish where a hearty and thick heirloom tomato is the "pasta" centerpiece surrounded by a pinon ricotta and delicious pistachio pesto. Is it like traditional lasagna? Hell, no. Is it great? Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't hear you, I was too busy frantically licking every last delectable morsel from my plate. Similar to the lasagna in panache is the Jamaican barbeque. It's a mighty plate that nearly capsizes with an abundance of options, from fried okra to a stunning yam-stuffed orange and Coryell's "homemade jerk." Much like the lasagna, it's far from authentic, but in and of itself, the dish is a flamboyant meal that borders on being a work of art. That dish alone describes the appeal of Nutshell—it might not be loyal to any one cuisine or any particular lifestyle, but food this imaginative and unique needs to be experienced by all.