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Feb 7, 2008 05:28 AM

Fine dining options for vegetarians and vegans?

My impression of Boston is that it's still pretty difficult for vegetarians of various stripes (pesco-, ovo-, lacto-, etc.) -- and extremely difficult for vegans -- to enjoy meals in fine dining restaurants. The more animal products your diet includes, the easier it is. But I also think that many dishes that look vegetarian aren't, thanks to practices like the heavy use of meat-based stocks in many professional kitchens.

In most Western (Europe/Americas) fine-dining restaurants here, I think you're lucky if they offer a steamed vegetable platter. I remember stalking out of the Julien Room when this was all they offered my vegetarian date whose birthday we were celebrating.

So here's my question: what fine-dining restaurants have you uncovered that do more than pay lip service to vegetarians and vegans? The list I came up with is pretty short:

* L'Espalier -- does an amazing degustation of seasonal vegetables (it's billed as a five-course tasting menu, but with amuses and other freebies it's more like ten), but it's loaded with butter, cream, and cheese.

* A handful of mid-range places that clearly love and respect their vegetarian customers -- Rendezvous in Central Square, Craigie Street Bistro, The Blue Room, Ten Tables, Henrietta's Table, Oleana. Tamarind Bay (which uses a lot of ghee), Addis Red Sea (actually pretty vegan-friendly). I'd be most interested in hearing about more of these.

* A few places that are borderline fine-dining: Myers+Chang, Pho Republique. Cafe D, The Beehive, Vee Vee.

* For pesco-vegetarians, the fancier Japanese restaurants (the Oishiis, Douzo, Fugakyu, etc.) and Western seafood places (Azure, Turner Fisheries, etc.).

There are plenty of places that aren't fancy/formal enough to qualify as fine dining establishments: the other Ethiopian and Eritrean places (Fasika, Asmara). Veggie Planet. Centre Street Cafe. Mediterranean-diet cuisines, e.g., Greek (Greek Corner), Lebanese (Reef Cafe), Israeli (Rami's). Most Northeast and Southeast Asian restaurants, whether they specialize in vegetarian dishes or not. The more modest Western-style seafood places.

What else have you found that's fine dining and truly vegetarian-friendly?

(I actually went to Yelp first with this question, thinking their seemingly youngish demographic might have a higher content of vegetarians and vegans, but the response there has been underwhelming. I still haven't figured out what local Yelpers are good at, food-wise. There are few real Chowhound types there, from what I can see.)

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    1. MC, I haven't been yet, as they just opened, but I walked by Grezzo (in the old Sage spot in the North End) while walking back from Bova's the other night. The place looked pretty nice inside. According to their Web site, the menu is 100% vegan.

      1 Reply
      1. I took an aquatarian client to Lineage, and she raved about it...Actually, i should have posted, but I haven't had time...Some of our dishes involved fish, some were vegetarian. i don't think any were vegan, but I wasn'tr eally checking.. An amazing gnocchi with chestnut fondue was the most impressive...

        There was also a veggie dish of eggplant roulades, with jerusalem couscous (they called it pearled pasta; puh-leeze!) and an excellent tomato sauce...
        But nothing could touch their spicy lobster tacos!

        I think aquatarian (my new word; works better than pescatarian, because it denotes everything from the water...) is easy. You can find it anywhere for fine dining. What place DOESN'T do a great fish dish??

        2 Replies
        1. re: galleygirl

          As a pescatarian (do eat fish, don't eat calamari, clamsetc), I find Chez Henri frustrating b/c the fish stuff almost always has shellfish thrown in. I do think Oleana's veg tasting menu is amazing, and I think Rendezvous has more than one option.
          I still remember the days of Cena by Symphony Hall - yum!

          1. re: Bluebell

            I went to Rendezvous last weekend, and they had some great veggie options. The vegetable antipasto platter was excellent - varied and well balanced flavors. I can't wait to go back and try it again. For the entree I had the "Bollito misto" with braised winter vegetables and creamy truffled polenta. The veggies included mushrooms, baby brussels sprouts, and carrots, and the broth was so good I asked for more bread to get every last drop. Dessert was the warm chocolate cake with cinnamon cream - yum. The cake was standard, but the cream was delicious. My carniverous DC was also really impressed with the charcuterie and lamb shank. A wonderful, special feeling place for veg and non-veg.

        2. Sorry the mods deleted the recommendation for Elephant Walk as a great vegetarian/vegan option. Are we not supposed to mention this place here or something?

          1 Reply
          1. re: joebelt

            It's fine to mention Elephant Walk. it's not fine to use this board to debate what it means to be a vegan/vegetarian. Please stick to recommending chow options. Thanks.

          2. The only other places I can think of that fit the bill of upscale and veggie friendly, and aren't already mentioned, are Upstairs on the Square and Om (though not sure of Om since Rachel Klein left - I haven't been to know if the menu or vibe has changed). I don't eat fish (I'm lacto-ovo) but have had very good vegetarian (no fish sauce) Udon at Fugakyu as well.

            2 Replies
            1. re: soxchik

              Om does have their General Om's Tofu back on the menu, but that *might* be the only vegetarian option.

              1. re: soxchik

                Upstairs on the Square's vegan tasting menu (with wine pairings!!) is an amazing meal. I think they're doing it around once a month or so (used to be less frequent). I believe the next one is March 31st.