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Jul 19, 2003 06:34 PM

vegetarian food in high end restaurants? + my report card

  • s

i've been eating out a lot in the past few years at some pretty respectable places, and as a vegetarian i can count on 3 fingers the # of things i've gotten that were worth the price. all too often vegetarians are expected to eat salads or the ubiquitous mushroom risotto or basil/red peppers/portabello dish or a plate of sides from the other entrees. ZZZZZ. anyone have any advice? my bfriend's getting tired of eating at asian restaurants, but i'm getting tired of not having anything worth getting, let alone any selection. my bf and i have come to the conclusion that the way to get decent veg. food in boston (other than going to asian restaurants) is to hope on the chinatown bus and go to new york. sad, but true.

here's my report card for places i've been to:

worth it (A+):
- had a mushroom pasta at troquet about a year ago that was also savory and tasty. need to go again.
- had a vegetable plate at les zygomates that may have been made up of sides, but whatever the assortment was, it was all worth savoring. that was a while ago -- need to go back and check it out.
- just had the crispy eggplant appetizer at via matta. thick slices of eggplant, so soft and smooth, was covered with a crunchy bready crust, a light, savory tomato mixture, and thin slices of mozarella. utterly delectable. the rest of the meal was unremarkable, though.
- dok bua, not high end, but some of the best food in boston imho.

okay (C)
- metropolis cafe: had a good potato gratin
- hamersley: like the mushroom sandwich, but needs to have more than just that
- kashmir: higher end indian, but really isn't much better than most other indian places.
- parish cafe: the baked ravioli was kind of novel in its crispiness.

next to no vegetarian food, or nothing worth getting again (F):
- rouge: terrible. supposedly has a daily vegetarian offering, but none was in sight.
- tremont 647: had bad service there as well.
- franklin cafe
- sonsie: had a few things there, and all were really subpar.
- aquitaine
- cuchi cuchi and tapeo

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  1. Try the "Ultimate Vegetarian Platter" at the Algerian/Tunisian Cafe Baraka in Central Square. Their rose flavoured lemonade is perfect for summer sipping. (You can do a search with "cafe baraka boston" as keywords; quite a number of praises on the board.)

    Another place worth considering is Namaskar in Davis Square. Their chef is from Gujarat, a region in Western India that specializes in vegetarian cooking. Their completely vegetarian Gujarati Thali (a set meal with several small servings of curries, lentils, rice, breads etc...) is chow-worthy, but be sure to use their intensely sour pickles as a condiment, not a standalone mouthful. See rhino888's posting on this place.

    How about pizza? A simple magherita at the oft-mentioned Regina's or Santarpio's would make a nice vegetarian (but not vegan) option. Or an eggplant parm sandwich (had good ones at Venice Ristorante on Cambridge street, there's probably better ones out there.
    Cafe Podima has good hot sandwiches, a number of which are completely vegetarian.

    Bluefin offers decent Japanese cooking, a number which are effectively vegan, like the agedashi tofu, or the natto (fermented soybeans, the version here seems relatvely mild if you're game) with yamakake (ground mountain yams) or veggie tempura. They might even have zaru soba (cold buckwheat noodles) or sensai udon (veggies with udon) -- not 100% sure on the noodles, but should be easy to find out.

    Craigie Street Bistro makes an awesome salad -- very fresh, pure tasting vegetables that totally reminded me of California.

    5 Replies
    1. re: Limster

      Limster, wouldn't agedashi tofu have bonito broth (dashi) in it? That would make it most definitely NOT vegan. Likewise, unless I'm mistaken, just about any Japanese noodle preparation available here usually has a dipping sauce or broth with dashi in it.

      1. re: MU

        Oops -- you're absolutely right; thank you for pointing that out.

        OTOH, I've also had agedashi tofu at vegetarian/vegan place a la japanese temple cooking, I guess they use a different broth (kelp perhaps?) than the standard version.

        1. re: Limster

          I think you're right on the kelp broth idea, Limster. There is such a broth, called konbu dashi, which is just seaweed soaked in water. According to, it's used for nabemono and tofu, so perhaps your agedashi tofu comes under that category, though I'd assume it would take a more assertive sauce and therefore have katsobushi.

          As a side note, in Berkeley, CA there's a vegan Japanese restaurant by the name of Cha-ya where I once had zaru soba. Couldn't tell what seasonings they used. Mushrooms perhaps? A question for the SF Board.

          1. re: Spoony Bard

            Funny you mentioned Cha-ya -- that was the place I had in mind when I thought that some of the Japanese dishes could be vegetarian.

            I guess we'll either have to ask at Bluefin or wait for a more perceptive hound to tell us which broth is used at this place. FWIW, I suppose it's always worthwhile to try requesting for the konbu dashi version just in case they have some handy. :)

            1. re: Limster

              Someone correct me if I'm wrong, but just konbu dashi itself (without bonito) isn't often used as a broth base, because it's not that flavorful. At every place I've asked,which I think includes bluefin, they put bonito in the broth. (I'm sure, though, at a vegan place they wouldn't).

              When I make vegan miso soup at home, I can tell it's missing something because of the lack of bonito (I had the real miso soup before I knew that it wasn't kosher for vegetarians). The konbu alone doesn't quite make it.

    2. Have you tried the vegetarian tasting menu (you may want to call ahead to make sure they have it that day) at Radius? Or the roasted stuffed yellow tomato at Amelia's Trattoria in Cambridge?

      1 Reply
      1. re: barleywino

        Or the tasting menu at Oleana...I can't remember much of what I had, but I remmeber I couldn't stop raving about it...every bite I was saying to my boyfriend "Oh my've got to taste this...oh my!"

      2. our personal fav., and i'm not vegetarian is Udupi Bhavan in Ashland on rt 126. always better than average Indian fare,( it is 100%Veg.) including many old standbys. the y will be moving soon to framingham, in the old train station.

        1. One of my best friends is a very strict ovolacto vegetarian (she won't eat any cheese that she's not certain doesn't contain animal rennet); as a result, I've learned a bit more about many restaurants' menus than I otherwise would. I'm really disappointed at the lack of knowledge about vegetarianism among most restaurants' kitchens and staffs -- it can't be that unusual a request in 2003!

          Using your ratings:

          A Tanjore -- Indian in Harvard Square. One of my vegetarian friends' favorite restaurants; plenty of choices and it's always good (IME).

          A Chez Henri -- always seems to have at least one rennet-free vegetarian entree on the menu. Last time I was there, it was a wonderful baked crepe dish.

          A Tasca -- we ordered at least five dishes that were OK recently, and there were several other options on the menu. The staff was knowledgeable and helpful.

          F Sel de la Terre -- would have been a decent option were it not for the rennet issue, but all of the vegetarian entrees had non-vegetarian cheese in them. They ended up improvising something that looked rather disappointing.

          F Prezza -- in this case we called ahead and asked about vegetarian options, specifically mentioning the issue of rennet. They assured us that they could easily accomodate such a diet, both with dishes on the menu and others that could be modified. When we actually arrived, though, we found only one entree that could be _modified_ to fit the criteria. They also weren't sure whether their cheeses had rennet or not.

          1. Have you tried the vegetarian (both dairy and non-dairy options) at East Coast Grill. I've had it and thought it was wonderful.

            And if you're not vegan, there are tons of pasta and pizza options in town. You're probably tired of them, but they are there.

            While you mention a bad experience at Franklin, I had a wonderful time there. And 1/2 their menu is vegetarian (not vegan) friendly.


            6 Replies
            1. re: Dax

              what in the world was vegetarian at franklin cafe? when i went there was about a salad and that was it.

              and re: pastas and pizzas, 99% of the time the pastas have meat in them and getting them w/out the meat is completely worthless, and none of the many pizzas i've tried in upper end places were much better than a good slice from nicole's on tremont.

              1. re:

                I very often see pastas with vegetables and marinara or pesto sauces. I'm spacing on the name of the spicy sauced pasta dish that's often served, plus there's plenty of veggie gnocchi or risotto w/ mushrooms, etc. 99% of pastas w/ meat is an exaggeration I think. Some places may not quite be able to handle it, but I think most can get the meat out of there if you ask nicely.

                And I've gotten great white pizza w/ portobello and caramelized onions at Sonsie, potato pizza at The Dish, some sort of mushroom at Cambridge 1 to name a few higher end places. Not to mention the fine onion/pepper pizza from Ideal in JP (if you like Greek style).

                1. re: Joanie

                  Most of my favorite pasta dishes are done without meat. I am somewhat of a purist and enjoy pasta with very minimal ingredients. Tomatoes, brown butter, very simple sauces, usually without meat...I'm not even a vegetarian and I see these dishes everywhere.

                  Walk around the North End and it'll be impossible to tell me you can't find a pasta dish done well without meat. Try the delicious homemade gnocchi baked in a terracotta dish at Antico Forno; an Arribiata dish at Il Panino (i think that's the spicy sauce you were referring to, Joanie)...Pasta with brown butter/sage at Sage....mmm. these are just a few, off the top of my head, I can think of.

                  1. re: lori

                    thanks to everyone for the suggestions so far. sorry if i sounded snippy, but i'm trying not to take out all my vegetarian rage on you guys. i'm just searching for some food ecstacy, just like everybody else. ;)

                    i guess i wasn't clear about my point when i first posted. sure, you'll find salads that are vegetarian and pizzas or maybe even a simple pasta, but does that come anywhere near as being as interesting as the dishes my non-veg friends get? never. i know firsthand that places like blu, tremont 647, via matta, teatro, hamersley's, metropolis cafe, aquitaine, mistral, and franklin cafe, supposedly good places to eat in boston, just aren't putting out very worthwhile vegetarian food. is this hard to do? i would think not, but apparently it is. these places just aren't putting in the effort. the majority of these places seem to be french-based as opposed to italian, which i think is generally more interesting, so perhaps i should revise my question:

                    are there any non-ethnic higher end, more french-based restaurants that serve a really strong (read: interesting, unique, or just extremely well-done) vegetarian entree? haven't tried l'espalier or number nine park or radius yet ...

                    thanks all

                    1. re: spacedog

                      I know for certain that L'Espalier has an entire vegetarian tasting menu available every night. It is great.
                      I am not sure about Radius or No. 9.

                2. re:

                  I should have prefaced my comment with "vegetarian options abound, vegan is much more tricky."

                  Regarding the Franklin Cafe: The first app on the menu I have is carrot bisque with whipped avocado. Then comes eggplant and tomato salad with fresh mozz & basil oil. Add in the homemade pizza with rosemary, potato, chevre, & caramelized shallots. Or how about the basil pesto and ricotta ravioli. Their spicy green beans are great for a side too.

                  "99% of the time the pastas have meat in them and getting them w/out the meat is completely worthless"

                  Where are you going? I'm not talking about the Bolognese sauces, but dishes like gnocchi and ravioli are very often meatless with brown butter or dairy based sauces. Walk around in the North End, look at all the menus posed outside the restaurants, the choices are there.

                  "and none of the many pizzas I've tried in upper end places were much better than a good slice from nicole's on tremont."

                  I was not impressed with Nicole's. Guess you have to get a pie or slice inside. I agree with Joanie, good pizza can be had at Cambridge 1 and any other of the "high end" pizza places. For less fancy pizza, try Pinocchio's in Harvard Sq., Regina's, etc.