Skip to content

Un-Granola

Guide for sophisticated vegetarian dining

Tag Archives: tasting menu

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: http://www.thekitchn.com/strong-and-sour-calamansi-lemo-154832)

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.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

An unexciting shot of me in front of Melisse — they don’t allow cell phone cameras to be used in the restaurant. Makes total sense. Melisse has gone to great lengths to preserve the 80s. Inside, it’s easy to believe that Reagan is still President and shoulder pads are cool. Allowing people to take photos with their phone would ruin the effect.

So if you love the 80s (and even if you don’t), Melisse is worth a visit. The sample “10” tasting menu is only for carnivores, but there is a fabulous 5-course vegetarian tasting menu. Chef Josiah Citrin doesn’t mind applying French techniques to vegetables. A puff pastry dish (Toad in the Hole) was my favorite, though the corn agnolotti was a close second.

Service is brisk but accommodating — they let me make substitutions to the vegetarian tasting menu for $10. Epic cheese cart.

Tags: , , , ,