Playing to the beet: The search for vegetarian options in fine dining

  • LEAVE A COMMENT
Parallel 38 goes beyond typical Mediterranean fare with vegetarian offerings like house made spaghetti with cherry tomatoes, roasted garlic with Parmesan, oregano and basil (left bowl) and roasted cauliflower, Marsala pink peppercorn spice mixture and a chai-shallot vinaigrette (top bowl). Photo: Rammelkamp Foto Parallel 38 goes beyond typical Mediterranean fare with vegetarian offerings like house made spaghetti with cherry tomatoes, roasted garlic with Parmesan, oregano and basil (left bowl) and roasted cauliflower, Marsala pink peppercorn spice mixture and a chai-shallot vinaigrette (top bowl). Photo: Rammelkamp Foto

Just like omnivores, vegetarians—whether lacto-ovo, 100 percent plant-based or flexitarian—want options that inspire and beguile. Vegetarians want to get lost in a delicious meal in a beautiful space just as much as the next foodie. And for those of us who are picky or want to get our money’s worth, aka refuse to spend $15 on limp, lukewarm small plates topped with fancy salt, thank you very much, the options are sometimes limited in local restaurants.

An octopus and pork cheek sushi may be delicious, and bring in plenty of food geeks, but if the avocado roll bores you to tears, the restaurant has made a major sin of omission.

Too often the vegetarian dining experience is about taking what you can get instead of making choices.

Not surprisingly, the Best of C-VILLE nominee restaurants have plenty of interesting options for vegetarians: Some are stellar, others are predictable, but they transcend the trappings mentioned above.

The Alley Light

Let’s be real. You dig The Alley Light for two things: 1. The atmosphere. There’s nowhere better to feel like you’re pulling one over on the coppers, with the low-lit, prohibition-era speakeasy atmosphere. 2. The cocktails. The drinks are some of the best around.

Eating vegetarian at The Alley Light is a toss up. The seasonal, ever-shifting menu features small plates, sometimes with mushrooms, goat cheese or peas, and the carrot yogurt dish with cumin-lemon-orange vinaigrette threatens to convert the most brazen carnivore. However, Alley Light’s interest in French fare also puts an emphasis on foie gras, bone marrow, tartares, rillettes and carpaccios. There’s a vegetable board, along with the requisite cheese plate, so if you’re tipsy on your (perfect) Moscow Mule and need a beautifully prepared little bite, you’ll find plenty to satisfy—and let’s not forget, alcohol is vegetarian too. No substitutions.

Lampo

If you love cheese, you’ll love Lampo. A newbie on the scene, Lampo delivers authentic, Italian pizza and small bites that are unfussy and impeccably balanced. The menu is short and manageable, like the pizzas themselves. Vegetarians will have to sidestep the heavy focus on cured meats and set their eyes on dishes like the mozzarella made in-house, and the small $3 cheese plates. The pizza is the main attraction, simply prepared with quality ingredients and baked in a wood fired oven, and it’s really why you go to Lampo. That and the very Italian cocktail and wine list. No substitutions.

The Local

Locally sourced produce, cheese, meat, herbs and the like are the backbone of The Local and there’s a concerted effort to provide vegetarians with legitimate options, although you’ll mostly find light salads (nothing too crazy), an appetizer (like black-eyed pea falafel), a cheese board, a pasta dish and one or two vegetarian entrees squeezed in amongst meat-centric dishes. What the vegetarian options lack in imagination, they make up for in flavor, quality and accessibility. The menu changes seasonally, but frequently features a vegetarian squash dish paired with grains and goat cheese; the pastas are often house-made with an emphasis on umami flavor (truffle oil, mushrooms, Parmesan, etc.). Vegan friendly. Substitutions welcome.

Mas Tapas

There’s a reason Mas has been chosen as a Best of C-VILLE restaurant again and again. The food is simple and crafted intelligently, with a nose for pleasure over pretense. On the menu you’ll find standards, which vegetarians can generally rely on: hummus, patatas bravas (fried potatoes with house aioli), Spanish tortilla (an egg and potato quiche), tomatas asados (juicy-sweet, smoky roasted Roma tomatoes swimming in rosemary olive oil), carefully selected imported cheese boards, intriguing seasonal salads, empanadas and perfectly prepared seasonal vegetables spiced creatively (crispy yucca fritters with manchego cheese centers, cinnamon, créme fraîche). The vegetarian options stand up to the omnivore options and they high five each other. Mas puts the pleasure back into dining for vegetarians and vegetarian friends alike. Be sure to ask if any of your small plates have been fried in animal fat. No substitutions.

Parallel 38

Freshly prepared vegetables and legumes alongside aromatically spiced grains, yogurt sauces, cheeses, olives and tapenades make up the exceptional options at Parallel 38. Mediterranean food is almost always vegetarian friendly, if only because you can always count on hummus (in pretty much any life situation), and in addition you’ll find excellently prepared labneh, tzatziki and flatbreads, plus a handful of more interesting dishes: an olive and almond mix, roasted za’atar cauliflower, Turkish flatbread with mushrooms and feta. The plates are meant to be shared, eaten leisurely over conversation and wine. There’s always room for more slow food restaurants like this one in town. Especially when every person at the table can eat happily, regardless of special diets. Vegan friendly. Substitutions welcome.

–Renee Byrd