Get Stuffed: 12 Super Thanksgiving Stuffings from Top Restaurants

Sure, turkey is the de facto star of the table on Thanksgiving, but let’s face it. Most of us live for stuffing or dressing as it’s also called. We’re not talking about week-old bread crumbs tossed together with a predictable poultry spice mix and some high-salt chicken stock here. No, this is about the unforgettable, too-good-to-line-your-leftover-sandwich stuffing. The dish that makes you completely forget there’s a gobbler in the middle of the table awaiting your attention. White or dark? Who cares! Pass me the stuffing. Again, please. Here are 12 super Thanksgiving stuffings that will have you ordering seconds.

Mercat a la Planxa, Chicago, Illinois
Meet the Catalan version of classic New England oyster stuffing. Razor clams dot saffron spiced squash bread pudding finished off with a splash of sherry pan jus. As they say in the northeastern Spanish region, “Déu n’hi do!” (Translation: Wow!)

Best Thanksgiving Stuffings

The Lambs Club, New York, New York
Cornbread forms the backbone of chef Geoffrey Zakarian’s stuffing. He accents the side dish with pork sausage and ground fennel seed, as well as the usual suspects: onions, carrots, celery, and plenty of garlic. The results are sweet ‘n’ savory – and sure to linger long in your memory even after Thanksgiving is a distant dot in your rear view mirror.

Best Thanksgiving Stuffings

Filini, Chicago, Illinois
You could make a meal out of this stuffing. Chef Carolina Diaz incorporates ground beef, dried cranberries, chestnuts, and walnuts into the mix, which gets an herbaceous boost from rosemary, parsley, and thyme. Try to remember to save some room for the actual turkey.

Best Thanksgiving Stuffings

Oceana, New York, New York
You’ve never had a gobbler quite like executive chef Ben Pollinger’s Cape Cod turkey. That’s because it’s completely poultry-free. He uses roast cod instead, which he packs with a über-rich crabmeat stuffing that’s so good you’ll be clacking claws with your dining companions to get seconds of it.

Best Thanksgiving Stuffings

Acadiana, Washington, D.C.
Stuffing done the Bay way. Chesapeake-sourced oysters and their briny liquor enrich this T-Day standout by chef Jeff Tunks. The dish is finished off with plenty of butter in order to…actually, no reason required. #buttermakeseverythingbetter

Best Thanksgiving Stuffings

Dino’s Grotto, Washington, D.C.
Here’s something we’ve never seen before: stuffing soup. Turkey stock-based Italian bread soup features hearty plugs of turkey sausage floating in its dark depths. Remember, it’s not polite to pick up the bowl with both hands and loudly slurp up its contents.

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Cheers to Vegetarian Awareness Month: Beyond the Salad + Sides at Saha in San Francisco

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As we bid adieu to Vegetarian Awareness Month — it’s been a good ol’ plant-filled time — we leave you with the message that it’s a big vegan-friendly world out there. Everywhere we look there are restaurants going plant-forward, with restaurants that showcase the most delicious of vegetarian and vegan cooking regardless of the meat on their menus.

Here in San Francisco at OpenTable HQ, we needn’t look far for unusual examples of the way in which what was once an alternative style of cooking and eating have merged with the culinary mainstream. Just blocks from our offices, a restaurant that was featured on our Top Vegetarian and Vegan-Friendly dining list, is the perfect example of how numerous different cuisine types lend themselves creatively to meatless dining.

And, as we recently discovered, some of the most innovative stuff is happening a stone’s throw away. At Saha, an Arabic fusion restaurant located in the Hotel Carlton on Sutter Street in the Lower Nob Hill neighborhood of San Francisco, Mohamed Aboghanem offers a style of cooking all his own, where he rethinks traditional Yemenese, Middle Eastern and North African fusion in a healthier, beautifully presented, local ingredient-driven style.

“People come to [Saha] because, especially if you are vegetarian, you feel like you have equal rights with the carnivores,” says the chef-owner who trained at the Cordon Bleu. “Half of the menu is vegan and gluten-free.”

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Dietary designations aside, his food is full of flavor, coaxed from spices of all kinds (turmeric, ginger, cayenne, all spice, cumin, sumac, and za’atar, to name a few), unusual beans and grains, and organic produce. Soy is scarce; alternative flours like garbanzo flour (naturally gluten-free) are not. Take the vegan knaffe (pictured): a vegan shredded phyllo with vegan cream cheese and wild mushrooms baked in a ramekin and served over coconut chermoulah chipotle sauce. No deprivation there.Continue Reading

Unbridled Restraint at Kajitsu: A Carnivorous Chef’s Vegan Table

As we continue to celebrate Vegetarian Awareness Month and our recent awards feting the 52 Best Restaurants for Vegetarians in America, we’re pleased to highlight Kajitsu, another winning restaurant. Serving shojin cuisine, chef Hiroki Odo discusses his journey to preparing #vegforward fare in “Unbridled Restraint at Kajitsu: A Carnivorous Chef’s Vegan Table.”

Blog kajitsu-30 copyWhile the idea of visiting a Michelin-starred vegan restaurant steeped in centuries-old Buddhist tradition elevated to the highest form of Japanese cuisine may give one reason to expect an exceptionally rigid atmosphere where diners are to be judged on every click of their chopsticks, Kajitsu, in the age of chef Hiroki Odo, stands in stark contrast. No doubt, Odo is very serious about his craft, committed to pleasing each customer who walks into his establishment. He is also far from being a conventional purist — and far from finished outdoing himself.

The shojin cuisine that Kajitsu specializes in ties back to the 12th-century Japanese Buddhist temples where vegetarian meals were prepared for the monks who lived there. The word shojin (“devotion”) refers to the conviction of the monks in upholding their values. Kaiseki refers to the sublime preparation and presentation of these dishes. Kaiseki, in its modern sense, is the Japanese analog to the French haute cuisine, the apex of Japanese culinary arts, with origins in traditional Japanese tea ceremony, which also hails from Buddhist tradition.

But enough about historical context. That the kaiseki dishes at Kajitsu are vegan is almost beside the point. Through careful, painstaking techniques, much of which happens long before any customers arrive, Odo and his team extract and enrich profound flavors from simple plant-based ingredients. Flavors that equal the well-seasoned stocks and sauces one can far more easily render from meat and bones.

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“I’m not even a vegetarian,” Odo confesses. “I like fried chicken and hamburgers. But what I do at Kajitsu is special because it is all prepared within the limitations and respect of traditional Japanese shojin cuisine. It is those very limitations that motivate me to create dishes that will delight and surprise my customers.”

To do this, Odo draws upon his extensive training as a young cook at restaurants in Kyoto, where kaiseki was developed. Moving to Kyoto after culinary school was for him the equivalent of a student of French cuisine seeking an apprenticeship in Paris. Kyoto would provide an opportunity to work with the very best chefs, albeit in a trying and sometimes harsh environment complete with a strict hierarchical order and a sense of discipline in which Odo thrived.

Odo says he enjoyed the rigorous teamwork, even when the conditions were almost brutal. Sleeping in dormitories with half a dozen workers sharing a room, working long hours, sleeping as little as 2 to 3 hours a night was both physically and mentally demanding. But cooking gave him a creative outlet with near instant gratification.

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“In high school, I had trained to become a carpenter,” says Odo. “But constructing a house or a building takes a long time to complete whereas, with cooking, the results can be enjoyed almost immediately. So, I went to culinary school.”

But like many in his industry, Odo would not find that gratification quite so instantly. “At my first job after school, I did nothing but wash dishes and clean house,” Odo remembers.

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He soon followed a mentor to the Michelin two-starred restaurant Wakuden in Kyoto, working as sous chef and learning what it would take to satisfy the highly demanding tastes of his clientele. “It was difficult,” says Odo. “People in Kyoto take their food very seriously, and they will tell you right to your face when they don’t like something.” That close interaction proved critical to Odo’s developing his skills. And today it is what keeps him firmly grounded in the present. “I watch my customers eat,” says Odo. “Not just what they eat, but how they eat it. Are they taking their time? Are they smiling? Are they appreciating the presentation? All of this helps inform me so that I can shape the flavors of the next dishes to suit their tastes.”

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When asked about the American taste for Japanese food, Odo demonstrates a democratic worldview. He acknowledges that American diners tend to favor richer flavors and more vibrant textures than their Japanese counterparts, and he finds ways to accommodate them. He garnishes his Full Moon Black Sesame Tofu with not only lily bulb but also powdered olive oil and cacao nibs to add depth and crunch. Does he consider these concessions? “No,” says Odo. “Every person’s taste is different. For me, this is just another challenge to take on. I want to cater to and meet the expectations of my customers. I enjoy that.”Continue Reading

Inside Vedge + V Street: Kate Jacoby + Rich Landau’s Honest, Feel-Good #VegForward Food

OpenTable_Vedge_VStreet-16-flippedLast week, in honor of Vegetarian Awareness Month, we unveiled the 52 Best Restaurants for Vegetarians in America. No conversation about plant-based dining could be complete without talking about chefs Kate Jacoby and Rich Landau or, rather, talking to them. So, that’s what we did! Read on for a look inside their restaurants Vedge and V Street, with photos from Simon Lewis, and learn about their honest, feel-good #vegforward food that you can believe in.


In the 1972 film The Heartbreak Kid, after eating a humble Midwestern dinner, Charles Grodin’s Lenny Cantrow, rather absurdly, declares, “There’s no insincerity in those potatoes. There’s no deceit in that cauliflower. This is a totally honest meal. You don’t know what a pleasure it is to sit down in this day and age and eat food you can believe in.”

Flash forward 40-plus years, and the same words might be uttered by anyone who has ever had the pleasure of dining at Vedge (hold the side of absurdity, even from a dyed-in-the-wool New Yorker like Lenny). The award-winning Philadelphia restaurant from chefs Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby has captured the nation’s attention since opening its doors in 2011 with its animal product-free menu that celebrates vegetables in ways both evocative and original.


The seemingly sudden success of Vedge and its brand of food diners can – and do – believe in, be they omnivores or vegans, is actually a story decades in the making. Philadelphia vegetable lovers are long-familiar with the couple’s popular Horizons restaurant, which had a devoted, cultish following, since it opened, first as Horizons Café inside a health food store, in 1994.


In the subsequent 20-odd years, appetites have evolved alongside Landau’s cuisine. Jacoby, who teamed up with Landau personally and professionally in 2001, said of their earliest menus, “It was a lot of tofu and seitan — mock meats, mock tuna salad, faux chicken salad. A lot of these playful ‘isms around protein-centric dishes. But that’s what it was back then. You had to start somewhere, and you had to start with something that was familiar to people.”


As Horizons steadily grew in popularity, there were a few significant culinary climate changes occurring in the U.S. She notes, “In the mid-2000s, people started to really think about where their food was coming from. They wanted to know its origins — who makes it, how organic it is, how local it is. People started to value that.”


At the same time, tapas and small plates began to captivate diners’ imaginations. “People became much more casual and social with their dining. They wanted to graze and have lots of plates in front of them and lots of variety.” These shifts allowed the couple to then shift their attention away from “a giant piece of vegan protein on a plate” and highlight a single vegetable at a time. They also allowed Jacoby and Landau to fully realize their vision for focusing on and celebrating vegetables, shuttering Horizons to open Vedge.


“It’s been this kind of beautiful story because everybody loves vegetables. Very few people refuse to eat them. There’s so much diversity in how you prepare them, the colors, the textures, the flavors. And there’s just so much to do when you get your hands on them. It’s really exciting territory.”


Landau, a self-taught chef who was nominated for a James Beard Award just this year, concurs. “We’re having a pinch-me moment. When people say that Vedge has made a splash on a national level, it’s hard to wrap my head around it. I just go to work and make sure everyone’s good and the food tastes amazing.”


Speaking of food, Vedge’s menu, and that of the newish restaurant V Street, is modest – and efficient (four guests could easily sample every one of Vedge’s offerings in a single sitting). “We keep our menu small because we like to be really focused on what we’re doing and do it really well,” he says.

With 18 dishes, diners can choose from six options at the veg bar, all of which are cold vegetable charcuterie selections. There are six hot, bigger-than-an-appetizer-yet-smaller-than-an-entrée kitchen plates, and their signature dirt list, a collection of freshly sown, at-the-moment farm vegetables. “We try to turn them into these whacky side dishes, doing things people haven’t done with them before. That’s our motto: Do something that hasn’t been done.”

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