Just as some people have an epiphany with a special bottle of wine or that first luscious bite of heritage-breed pork, Rich Landau’s aha ingredient moment came a dozen years ago, in the somewhat less likely forms of fresh fennel and eggplant.
“A farmer from Lancaster, Pennslyvania, which has some of the country’s most fertile growing soil, brought me vegetables three hours out of the ground that changed my life,” says Landau, who then owned Horizons restaurant. “Fennel sweet as an apple and eggplant that started beading water the moment you sliced it, it was so fresh.”
Landau and his business partner and wife, Kate Jacoby, have since turned that inspiration into a series of relentlessly popular vegetable restaurants in their hometown of Philadelphia—the esteemed small-plates spot Vedge and casual spinoff V Street—that have altered the narrative surrounding the word vegan. This spring marked the duo’s first foray outside state lines, when they opened Fancy Radish in Washington, D.C.
“As we were growing in Philly and thinking we could take a step beyond the city, the natural progression of the conversation was, New York City or Washington, D.C?” Jacoby says. “A lot of people from Philly go on date nights to New York, but we always found ourselves drawn to D.C. Rich has family there, and I went to Georgetown.”
The other telling hint? Almost daily the couple would notice at least a handful of District residents dining at one of their Philly spots. “They’d stop us on their way out and say ‘please, please open in D.C.,’” Jacoby adds. “You can get a gorgeous tasting menu there, but there really isn’t anything like what we do.”
Fancy Radish—aptly named for a beloved Vedge dish—indeed shares a handful of menu items with its sibling restaurants, all in the name of celebrating plants’ inherent craveability rather than coaxing them into unsatisfying meat analogs. In the eponymous dish, four radishes are each presented with a different garnish, like yuzu-avocado purée and smoked soy. The also reprised rutabaga fondue blends puréed rutabaga with miso and tofu mayonnaise into a creamy, tangy melange that’s served in a crock with pickled vegetables and warm pretzel bread.
With chef de cuisine David Gravenmier at the helm, Fancy Radish is carving out its own identity, too. Trumpet mushroom “pasta” swims in brothy sauce with burst cherry tomatoes while edgy cocktails like the Raphanous Shade—rye whiskey, roasted black radishes, amaro, and black vinegar—test the boundaries of bitter and sour.
The casual, 65-seat space exudes urban garden vibes that suit its modern apartment complex digs, with exposed ductwork, concrete floors, and colorful swiss chard renderings above the tiled open kitchen.
“We wanted to create something entertaining for people’s palates, but most of all make it approachable for any night of the week,” Landau says. “We want people to think, Fancy Radish tonight? No problem.”
So far, it’s a hit—earning a glowing review from the Washington Post food critic and fast reputation as one of the city’s toughest reservations to get. It’s partly a testament to a cultural shift toward plant-heavier eating and dressed-down dining style that’s taken over the staid, formal meal construct. Even so, Landau and Jacoby aren’t sitting back.
“We’re in a hard business, and it feels good to be recognized,” Landau says. “But it comes with a lot of pressure. Every day, you have to be better than the day, week, and month before.”