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Un-Granola

Guide for sophisticated vegetarian dining

Monthly Archives: May 2012

On the night we went, Barley Swine had just three vegetarian dishes on the menu. Fortunately, they were three GREAT dishes.

If you’re vegan, this is not the place for you – butter, cheese, and eggs are much used. If the words “chicken-fried pig face” (ewww) on a menu are intolerable, this is not the place for you. If you like cocktails with your dinner, other places do that. (Barley Swine only has beer and wine.) If you can’t imagine waiting an hour or more for a table, you should go elsewhere.

We went early on a Tuesday night, and there wasn’t a wait. The dining room is tiny (there are plans to expand into a larger space), so for now the wait on a Friday night can be considerable.

First up, cream of artichoke with gruyere fritters:

This was a rich, buttery artichoke custard with delicious gruyere fritters and an unexpected element – mushroom “chips” that were earthy and crisp.

Next up, heirloom tomato with pimento goat cheese:

A great dish can make you reconsider your likes and dislikes. I think of pimento as disturbingly shelf stable cheese spread. But when made with fresh cheese, spread on good bread, and served with peaches and heirloom tomato, it is amazing. I loved this interpretation of grilled cheese and tomato soup.

The best dish, scrambled duck egg with morels, came last:

The greens and radishes added a welcome bit of lightness to the indulgently creamy scrambled eggs with morels. Potatoes aren’t my thing, but the purple ones on this dish were very pretty.

The portions are bigger than I expected. My one vegetarian friend  agreed that we could easily have split a third dish. (Our other friends were too busy swooning over scallops to weigh in on portion size.)

I wish I’d been less full, because the desserts here are worth eating:

The strawberry shortcake wasn’t too sweet, allowing the fresh berry flavor to shine. The chocolate swiss cake roll was delicious, but the barley ice cream (which sounds weird), with its sweet and slightly herbal taste, was the standout element.

The menu says no substitutions, but our waiter cheerfully accommodated our request to make the artichoke dish anchovy-free. She also explained that the corn soup was made with fish stock, which I appreciated her knowing.

One day, maybe, a gourmet vegetarian restaurant will open in Austin. Until then, I’ll just have to look past the pig face (ewww) at Barley Swine.

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El Naranjo has moved from a trailer to a spiffy new house on Rainey St — all the better to showcase their no Tex/all Mex food.

The space is sleek and pretty, much like Icenhauers next door.

We sat on the cute patio. There’s also a small room that’d be fun for a  large group.

El Naranjo has specialty cocktails, in addition to small selection of wine. My friend had a Sidecar, which he said was perfect, and I had a glass of wine.

Instead of the predictable chips and salsa, El Naranjo brings out fresh bread, spicy butter, and a trio of totally addictive dips:

So far, so good. These are some serious salsas.

In terms of vegetarian options, El Naranjo has many vegetarian appetizers (salads, a dish with nopales, jicama enchiladas as an appetizer) and a few veg entrees, including a chili relleno made with puff pastry and a mole dish.

I asked the waiter five times, and he swore that all three moles that day were vegetarian, not even thinned with chicken stock. The manager came by later and explained that a couple of the moles (poblano and negro) have chicken stock, but they weren’t on the menu that night.

I ordered the rojo mole with vegetables:

The sauce itself was delicious and complex, as a mole should be, with smoky peppers and a slightly bitter note. The vegetables included chayote, peas, and mushrooms. It was all very good, but I could really have used some protein. The manager said they’d consider adding seitan or some other source of veggie protein (not very traditional, clearly) to the dish.

My friend had the pipian (pumpkin seed) sauce with shrimp, and he loved it.

El Naranjo is not cheap ($75 for two of us). But this is intricate Mexican food, as far as you can get from yellow cheese and grease.

I wish them well — and will be back to try the chili relleno.

Food is Bliss. So goes Chef Mark Bliss’ slogan for his restaurant, and it is right on the money. The food here really is Bliss, even for vegetarians and vegans. Which is nice, since for us Food is Often Sadly Predictable or even Hard To Find.

The restaurant, in the bungalow-filled King William neighborhood, incorporates an old gas station. The conversion is terrific, with an open, airy dining room and small patio.

Our waiter explained that Bliss always has one vegetarian and one vegan option. On this night, they were gnocchi (which she pushed, saying it was one of her favorite dishes) and a vegan platter. I ordered the platter, along with an endive salad. I always worry that upscale restaurants will stop offering non-pasta veggie options if people like me don’t order them.

And I’m glad I did:

A selection of vegan dishes, with protein and vegetables. My favorites were the fresh zipper peas, grilled lemon, and the artichoke. The sweet potato puree added a bit of starch. Everything was super-fresh and treated with a light hand, just enough to bring the flavors out.

There are a lot of veggies on that plate, right? So I didn’t bother resisting dessert:

The lemon tart was tart instead of sickeningly sweet, as it so often is. And the deconstructed pecan pie, with wafers instead of a crust, was insanely good.

Bliss is on the expensive side but is totally worth it. So grateful for a place with a great wine list, serious cooking — and vegetarian/vegan options every night.

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