Go Vegetate!

It may have taken a few months, but we finally discovered DC's vegetarian restaurant, Vegetate. I suppose there might be others, but this one has the appeal of actually attempting to be upscale and vegetarian simultaneously. A rare and difficult combination. Sometimes those crowds aren't quite looking for the same things in a restaurant, so a nice veggie joint has to wow the fine diners without the luxury of meat, or convince enough vegetarians that there is such a thing as a $17 vegetarian entree at a restaurant.

Vegetate starts working to rack up your bill with wine, cocktails and the cocktail pairing menu that they call the “bites” menu. Kind of like pre-appetizers. They also encourage you to patronize several “small plates” and a “large plate,” just like any restaurant but with a slightly larger focus on appetizers. That's how they get you to spend over $30 on a vegetarian meal. Clever. But was it worth it?

We decided to get drinks but skip “bites,” since they were priced very closely to the supposedly larger “small plates.” After glancing at the risotto fritters, fancy grilled cheese and veggie sliders on the next table, I realized that the portions were fairly generous and perhaps we misjudged, at least for the sake of carbs.

We did order two of the better looking “small plates,” which were more interesting but only somewhat larger than the “bites.” The first was a turnip gratin in a romesco sauce with gouda cheese. It was very tasty. There was not an overwhelming amount of cheese, just enough to add a little saltiness, nuttiness and texture to the gratin. The romesco was the key, with its mustard adding a lot of character and depth of flavor to the turnips. The turnips themselves didn't have a ton of independent flavor but added consistency and heartiness to the dish, beyond just being a sauce and cheese agent. We also ordered another “small plate” of wild mushrooms and cider-braised cabbage with a poached egg and toast. It was quite a novel dish and had an amazing combination of flavors. I especially liked how the perfect soft-poached egg interplayed with the tanginess of the cabbage.

For dinner, Julia ordered the vegetable risotto with truffle oil and cashew cream. It was filled broccoli and a few other vegetables and had a lovely creamy and deep flavor in the risotto. I couldn't taste the cashew itself but Julia said she could. Julia's dad and I each ordered the BBQ seitan, a housemade meat replacement, which was actually quite impressive. It was made out of wheat, but actually had the consistency and flavor of a pork tenderloin. It was pretty impressive – I actually had to use a steak knife to cut it. Plus, the BBQ sauce was very tangy and delicious, and it came with superb mashed sweet potatoes and some sautéed greens. It was incredibly unique and just fun and tasty to eat. Oh and get this! Both entrees, despite mashed potatoes in mine and “cashew cream” in Julia's, were completely vegan. Of course our appetizers were not vegan, but they were clearly marked as containing eggs/dairy.

With dinner, we also ordered two of their sides. The first was hand-cut chipotle fries with scallions. They were tasty but did not have too much noticeable chipotle flavor. The chipotle was the reason we ordered them, so it was a little bit of a letdown. We also ordered some terrific Brussels sprouts though, and I'm not usually even a Brussels sprouts fan. They had a very flavorful broth over them and were tender and wonderful. I would definitely get those again.

Lastly, we had dessert. We were running out to a comedy show, so we ordered and ate quickly. The first was a raspberry mascarpone ice cream that was house made. It was very creamy, but it was not apparent what made it so mascarpone-y. The other was an awesome dark chocolate ganache with sesame seeds, lemongrass syrup and basil. You're like, “wait! What?” But I'm serious. It was like a big hunk of fudgy goodness with all of these interesting savory flavors that enhanced and sharpened the amazing taste that blossomed from each bite. It was really worth staying an extra few minutes to enjoy.

I think we will definitely be going back to Vegetate to continue to try some of their other veggie fare. Plus, it seems that their menu varies by season and ingredients that are available freshly and locally, so that's always a plus too. The creativity and flavor running throughout the menu is the true winning point here, and should hopefully show diners and chefs alike that vegetarian food can and should be done well and done often.

Check out my reviews of this place in even more detail at Menuism.com!

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