Special occasion vegetarian in O.C.?
We are taking a vegetarian guest out for a celebration dinner in O.C. later this month. We want it to be special...nice environment, good drinks and wine, and most importantly excellent vegetarian food (not a plate of steamed veggies, or a plain pasta with marinara sauce!). The problem is that the other guests are not vegetarian, so they must have good meat and fish also. We live in the Irvine area, but will travel 45 minutes or so to an exceptional place!
Vegetarians can eat well at Italian and Indian restaurants without a problem. Royal Khyber at South Coast Village serves plated dishes (as opposed to family style), so everyone can eat what he/she likes. Vessia is right there in Irvine, and of course there are many other Italian places in OC. The veggie places I know of (e.g., Avanti) are very casual and don't serve meat for the others in the party. Hope that helps.
Call up Marche Moderne in South Coast Plaza and see what they can do for you. The last time I went there, there were four or five insanely good-sounding salads (some had cheese), an absolutely off-the-hook tarte aux legumes, a great pissaladiere (ask them to leave off the anchovies, I've had others do that and there's no issue with it), and a cocotte of stewed lentils with cipollini onions and other vegetables in. Assuming dairy is not a problem, they have a great cheese selection and their desserts are excellent.
Those folks have really mastered the art of making absolutely anyone feel at home even though it's a quite fancy place, and they have shown themselves willing to make reasonable changes ("leave the prosciutto out of the salad, please, I'm vegetarian).
Another possibility is Napa Rose in Disney's Grand Californian Hotel. One time a coworker had this insanely good appetiser of asparagus roasted over oak with smoked tomatoes, polenta, wild mushrooms and a tiny quail egg on top. I myself have been able to tear myself away from the meat there to eat a plate of fantastic soy-glazed extra-firm tofu with Santa Barbara sea vegetables and very aromatic long-grain rice.