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Guide for sophisticated vegetarian dining

Monthly Archives: July 2012

If you’re vegetarian, you’ve probably, at least once in your life, been taken to a place (say a steakhouse in the Midwest) where you don’t want/can’t eat/won’t eat a thing on the menu. Where even the salads have bacon in them.

When I’m picking a place to eat, it’s tempting to aim for revenge. But I take the high road and try to pick places that will make everyone happy.

Riffs is about perfect for a mixed group, which in our case included a vegetarian, a pescatarian, and a determined carnivore.

Describing itself as a “foodbar,” Riffs is run by the chef of Q’s, a fine dining restaurant in the Hotel Boulderado. Riffs is more casual and affordable than Q’s, but there’s a definite focus on quality ingredients and interesting flavors.

In addition to vegetarian salads and pastas, the small plates section of the menu on the night I visited had three veg protein options: bread with white bean puree, green pea hummus, and miso glazed tofu.

I started with the green pea hummus:It came with a jalapeno sofrito, or oil-based sauce. The hummus itself was chunky, more suitable for peas, than chickpea hummus, and the sofrito had a bit of heat.

Since I didn’t want a plate of pasta, I ordered the miso glazed tofu in ginger carrot broth as my entree:

The pickled beech mushrooms and seaweed salad added sourness and astringency – you need big flavors like that when you’re serving tofu, which is so bland on its own. The tofu had been seared and had a nice crust on it.

I also had a side of lemony, garlicky greens.

Even the carnivore at the table agreed that the greens were delicious.

If you want a large plate with vegetarian protein, Leaf or The Kitchen in Boulder might be better bets. But, for small plates with veggies and plenty of veg protein, Riffs is great.

(Also, they card everyone. So you can feel good about that moisturizer you remembered to use a week ago.)


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I once stayed at a lovely old hotel in Bruges, Belgium where they required all guests to eat one meal at their restaurant. My obligatory meal involved multiple courses of wild rice. In a salad, in a soup, in a dish cooked with vegetables. I don’t remember dessert, it may have involved wild rice too. The chef clearly just didn’t know what to do for a vegetarian, Belgian cuisine being as meat-focused as it is.

Congress is nothing like that. They don’t miss a beat in serving vegetarians.

This elegant spot in the Austonian building offers 3-course ($75) and 7-course ($125) tasting menus. On a prior visit, they had printed vegetarian tasting menus. On this visit, our waiter just pointed out the vegetarian dishes and the ones that could be modified to be made veg-friendly. She also said the chef would make special dishes if guests didn’t like the ones on offer.

Our amuse bouche was a potato custard with parmesan foam. I asked if it was vegetarian, and she said: Everything I bring you tonight will be vegetarian. Now folks, that’s what you call service.

The rich custard and light, salty foam vanished quickly:

First up on my 3-course menu: a burrata, peach, and tomato salad.

Burrata (fresh mozzarella with cream inside) is always a treat. The tomatoes and peaches in this dish made for an unusual combination of tart and sweet. Sage, in place of the expected basil, cut through the rich dairy goodness.

I could probably make that dish, it was more about the combination of ingredients than technique. I would not, however, attempt to make what came next:

I’d asked for a dish with vegetarian protein but no pasta. They served me fresh fava beans and black quinoa with micro-greens, corn and smoked buttermilk. The acidity of the buttermilk complemented the chewiness of the beans and quinoa. The smoky note added umami, that quality of mouth-fullness.

I have no idea how to smoke buttermilk, and never has quinoa tasted so good.

My third course was carrot ravioli:

The cardamom, shiso (a variety of mint that is frequently used in Japanese cuisine), and garlic broth had a deep, complex flavor that tempered the sweetness of the carrot filling in the ravioli. Cardamom is great with sweet vegetables such as carrots and pumpkins.

For dessert, we split a lime-basil sorbet. Sounds simple, right?

It was anything but. Dehydrated, candied grains added crunch to the tart yogurt mousse. There was sweet mango and Asian pear, offset by a puree of intensely sour calamansi lemons. Overall, our dessert was sweet and sour, creamy and crunchy – totally delicious.

Calamansi lemons, our server told us, are a cross between mandarin oranges and kumquats traditionally grown in the Philippines. They might be the new “it” ingredient, the way pomegranates were a couple of years ago. (See this article from the Kitchn:

Congress is not cheap. But you would pay a lot more for this level of cooking in NYC or LA. The manager came by and told us that, in addition to happily accommodating vegetarians, they can serve vegans with a couple of days’ notice. So – Austin now has a restaurant that can offer a vegan tasting menu.

Congress is worth your saved pennies.

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Watercourse has something for everyone: cheesy nachos for vegetarians who want something indulgent, salads and smoothies for  those detoxing, and a hearty pasta dish for those who wandered in, not knowing or caring that this is a vegetarian restaurant.

All this choice makes Watercourse a great place to take a big group.  Everyone from your vegan sister and your gluten-sensitive cousin to your meat-and-potatoes friend will find something to eat. (Though the meat of course will be made with seitan or tofu. Shhhh…)

The vibe here is hipster casual, with cheerful and opinionated service.

I was in desperate need of vegetables on my visit, so I started with a carrot, kale, apple, beet, celery, and fennel smoothie:

It was fresh and delicious. Fortified with all those vegetables, I split an order of samosas with my friend:

They looked more like empanadas than samosas, but the vegetable filling was very good. I wish they’d serve the chimichurri sauce on the side to keep the samosas from getting soggy. But overall, this was a fun start to the meal.

Next up for me, the macro plate:

This involved quinoa in miso sauce on one side, adzuki beans on the other, with pretty bok choy dividing the two. The beans were a tad bland, but I really liked the quinoa and the picked vegetable garnish. Loved the infusion of protein.

My friend had the Thai peanut stir fry:

The sauce had a pleasant savory/sweet flavor, and the noodles were firm, but the tofu (which my friend ordered blackened, at the recommendation of our server), overwhelmed the dish. This would be a more balanced dish without grilled tofu.

There’s just so much to try at Watercourse. And even your pickiest friend will find something to like here.

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Every city has its pockets of coolness. (Austin, my hometown, is so darn hip it only has pockets of un-coolness.) 

Oklahoma City has Deep Deuce, a historically black neighborhood close to downtown that’s now full of interesting restaurants, sleek new apartments, and the hipsters and young professionals who like such things.

The Wedge in Deep Deuce serves vegetarian and vegan pizza. In any other city, this would be unremarkable. But in OKC, headquarters of the Sonic chain, I think it’s worth pointing out all spots where you can get veggie food.

The Wedge’s open space has a chill urban vibe:

There’s also a patio with plenty of shade and a small garden in the front where they grow some of the veggies they serve:

In addition to pizzas, The Wedge has a good selection of salads and starters. The Wedge Trio, which features artichoke hearts, hummus, and tapenade served with flatbread, is full of veggies and veggie protein.

Of course, the pizza is the main event. And while it’s off menu, The Wedge has cashew cheese. I built my own pizza with spiced walnuts, pine nuts, figs, and pears and cashew cheese in place of the dairy stuff.

The cashew cheese here is much better than the Daiya cheese used for vegan pizzas at other places. And the combination of nuts and fruits on my pie was delicious. They also offer the Vedge, a veggie pizza, and a pizza with truffle oil and mushrooms.

Our waiter said they don’t always have the cashew cheese on hand, so it may be better to call ahead if you’re vegan.

You can’t have a cool neighborhood without upscale pizza…it’s a bonus that The Wedge caters to vegetarians and vegans as well as it does.









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