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Upscale meal with good vegetarian options

Hello, hounds. The missus and I are looking for an upscale dinner to celebrate our anniversary.

From some of the suggestions on this board, I gather that no. 9 Park might be worth a shot. My wife is vegetarian however, so I wanted to check if anyone had had the experience of ordering the vegetarian version of the chef's tasting menu or anything else vegetarian there.

Last year, we went to Craigie on Main and had what we thought was the best meal of our life. So, something to top that would be great :). Craigie on Main did a fantastic job of the vegetarian dishes too, so my wife has been spoilt by that experience.

Thanks a ton and looking forward to reporting back based on your feedback.

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  1. At the very high end, L'Espalier does a stunning degustation of seasonal vegetables, listed as four courses but more like eight with all the little extras; extra of a cheese course highly recommended. Much fancier atmosphere and more formal service than Craigie.

    Less pricey and formal but also worthy: Oleana.


    1 Reply
    1. re: MC Slim JB

      Thanks, MC Slim JB. I should have mentioned we prefer a less formal place too.

    2. You might consider Rendezvous. It's not as upscale as the places you mentioned, but is very good on all levels: food, cocktails, service, ambiance, and I've had terrific vegetarian meals there. I haven't found No. 9 to be vegetarian friendly at all, I'm afraid. If you really want to blow some dough in a not-too-formal setting, O Ya would probably be great. I haven't found an occasion auspicious enough to warrant the prices, but I drool over the vegetarian options on the menu.

      2 Replies
      1. re: pollystyrene

        Thanks for the tip, pollystyrene. I was just looking at the O Ya menu. They do seem to have a few vegetarian options. I thought they'd be mostly fish, but I see some dishes with truffles, tofu etc. Probably a little pricier than I had first planned, but certainly worth considering.

        1. re: dying_for_dosa

          Yes, they also have a few omelets and other egg dishes, which I expect they elevate to a new level given the prices and 1-2-bite portions.

          I'm not a fan of Oleana, but beyond the food, I would say the atmosphere might not be great for an anniversary. There are white tablecloths, but you'll be eating elbow-to-elbow with your neighbors.

          Another possibility is Hamersley's. They have a small, separate section of the menu with vegetarian dishes. The one vegetarian entree I've had there (no longer on the menu) was unremarkable, but everything else was very good, and it's a step up in formality from Rendezvous.

          As a vegetarian with limited means, my two go-to places for celebratory meals are Mamma Maria and Rendezvous, and I look forward to the day I can add O Ya to the list!

      2. I LOVE Oleana for delicious vegetarian options. Enjoy!

        2 Replies
        1. re: sallyt

          oh yes. the vegetarian tasting menu is amazing and a meat eater get get some great meze as well. the tables are close together;if it is a warmer evening they may still be serving in the garden (they put out heaters) and is quite romantic.

          1. re: Madrid

            My husband and I are both vegetarian and Oleana is by far our favorite special occasion restaurant. The menu changes frequently, so we're always surprised and delighted when we go back.

            If you can eat on the patio, it is really, really lovely. It might be getting too chilly, but it's worth a visit on a warmer day just to eat out there.

        2. Journeyman! My favorite upscale veggie-friendly restaurant lately.

          Rendezvous gets a 2nd in my book. Less pricey than Journeyman but the owner puts his heart into it and Scott Holliday, the barman, has an old-timey service aesthetic.

          Craigie did a good vegetarian tasting menu for us, but we got turned off after owner/head chef Tony Maws came over to the table next to us and bad mouthed vegetarians (note: we had already dropped 2 bills on dinner by that point). We never ate there again although we go there for cocktails.

          23 Replies
          1. re: yarm

            Whoa! That's interesting. Do you remember what his bad-mouthing consisted of? Details, please!

            1. re: pollystyrene

              This was back when Craigie was on Craigie, not Main St. We had ordered a vegetarian tasting dinner that night. Tony Maws came over to talk to the table of 4 next to us who he seemed to know well. Tony declared that while his brother is a vegetarian and how he is willing to make the food, he just doesn't get it. He made it seem like his heart wasn't in it, but he does it out of obligation, business savvy, or other.

              Mind you, the dinner was excellent and had we missed his diatribe, we would have been eager to return. And I have read articles about his enthusiasm for the 12 course vegan tasting meal challenge (although enthusiasm can be generated via dare rather than innate). However, when I dine at Journeymen, they are enthralled by both the vegetarian and omnivore options and have never even tainted my opinion of their love of what they are providing that is meatless.

              A lot of the dining experience is the undertones of service and management. In the cocktail world, it is true too in how the same recipe will taste better if served by a more agreeable bartender in a pleasing setting.

              1. re: yarm

                There's a lot of room between badmouthing something and saying that you "just don't get it." It's a bit libelous to confuse the terms. I can see nothing wrong with a chef admitting he or she doesn't "get" a certain food preference. If I ask Tony Maws to cook me only foods which are yellow, it'd be ridiculous of me to be insulted that he didn't see my reasoning, and I wouldn't care if I overheard him say so to his friends.

                I'm insulted by vegetarian options which are uninventive afterthoughts. But if you cook good food, I could care less whether or not you emotionally embrace the cuisine. I don't expect that Maws is back there really loving the hell out of every burger he makes, either. The vegetarian stuff I've had at Craigie has been really good. I wouldn't walk into his kitchen and demand, additionally, that he fully respect all of my food choices.

                1. re: FinnFPM

                  Food and drink is not served in a vacuum in my perspective. Being passionate about the food and drink they craft and serve is a major part of the experience.

                  I do not expect the guy doling out $2 slices of pizza to be passionate; at a dive bar, I almost expect a certain amount of rudeness. But when I dole out $100+ per person at a dinner, I expect a certain level of mindfulness to the experience both from the kitchen and at the table.

                  What I said was hardly libelous. This wasn't even just a comment he made but a whole conversation that last several minutes. I just summarized the main points.

                  And we weren't making a special request as you suggest. We were ordering straight off the menu that he designed. Apparently, you are suggesting that being a vegetarian is akin to being a yellow fetishist or an absurdist. And apparently, Tony is in some agreement that being a vegetarian is absurd.

                  1. re: yarm

                    While I've heard they've really upped their veggie-fare game in the past year for tasting menus, I will say I found the "glacée of farm vegetables" over pilaf to be both the blandest and most over buttered thing I've eaten in a long time. In addition, for a restaurant of this caliber, it's pretty uninspired to have veggies over grain; they certainly have the talent to do better. Also, it has remained unchanged as the sole vegetarian main-course since they opened. I do think given their range of dishes, that that pretty much sums up their interest in vegetarian cuisine.

                    I think most of the food they make at Craigie is incredible and as someone who just happens to eat vegetarian most of the time (but is not a vegetarian) I can order anything else and be set. My friends who are hardcore vegetarians/vegans would be pretty limited choice-wise unless everyone wanted to do full tastings menus.

                    1. re: Klunco

                      Yes, it's too bad. I've wanted to try Craigie but haven't because their one veggie entree hardly ever changes and sounds uninspired. I've never been to Hungry Mother or Salts for the same reason. But chefs can create whatever dishes they want and have no obligation to cook to my preferences. Luckily, there are others who seem to like the challenge, and rise to it.

                    2. re: yarm

                      I do agree that a restaurant with really great peripherals is going to rate more highly than the same restaurant where no one is smiling or seems to care. Certainly diners have expectations about the experience, depending on the place, and if the restaurant seems ignorant of its own customers' expectations, that's very grating.

                      I would say that I am less sensitive to those sorts of things. I'm a talker and an arguer and if Tony came out of the kitchen and told me that he cooked me vegetarian food but didn't really get the whole vegetarian thing, I'd be more tempted to engage him on the subject, or argue with him, than to feel insulted. I'd actually probably value that more highly than an average restaurant experience, so long as everyone kept their tone reasonable and their Good Listener pants on.

                      I still think there's a huge difference between "I just don't get this" and badmouthing something. You have, thus far, failed to show that he badmouthed vegetarianism. I'm not saying that he didn't -- you were there, not me -- but I am saying that you have not substantiated your claim. If he said "the average vegetarian IQ is 86," then we might have something here.

                      1. re: FinnFPM

                        Would it only count if he said "vegetarians suck" or would he need to 86 me from the restaurant to count? He pretty much implied that vegetarianism was lame but only did dishes out of obligation or for a business model. No one asked him about this -- he proffered it in our earshot and essentially did a drive buy flatulence on our otherwise good meal. Either he needs to be all in or all out on his menu items or at least keep his trap shut.

                        You have stated that you are not bothered by things, but you are bothered by me stating that I was not pleased by having the chef declare in the dining room that his heart and soul is not behind the dinner he made for us and he's just doing it for the business.

                        In conclusion, so far you have not shown that he did not bad mouth vegetarians (or make them feel less appreciated if they had all heard what he had said) and you are pretty clear in stating that my opinions and my experience is invalid.

                        If you want counter examples about how chefs have impressed me about how they got vegetarianism, Stephen Brand of Upstairs on the Square is a shining example. He spoke about his nearly a year long earnest search for high quality vegan wines (most wine makers won't commit to what process they always use) and would not do his tasting dinner until he could feel comfortable making all his guests comfortable.

                        1. re: yarm

                          I tend not to laugh at 6:30am but "did a drive-by flatulence" got me.

                          1. re: yarm

                            Not for nothing, but isn't he just being very "French" by eschewing vegetarianism?

                            1. re: Bob Dobalina

                              My point is that he chooses to do this and put it on his menu and soak up press for it. He should then stand behind it.

                              When I go to a place like Island Creek Oyster Bar and there is pretty much nothing on the menu vegetarian (but I am told that chef can do things for me), I understand that I may or may not be appreciated by the kitchen since I am going off menu. And that I am lucky that they are taking the time to do this for me. I have never taken them up on that though but have been forced to do that at other restaurants when I've been dragged along for business or birthday lunches/dinners.

                              1. re: Bob Dobalina

                                But Craigie is not a "French" restaurant and Maws is not French. He is an American chef serving American food that utilizes French technique and is French inspired.

                                That said, it's getting much easier in Paris and other cities to find vegetarian options than in years past, so even this stereotype is starting to fade.

                                1. re: Klunco

                                  Agree on all counts. The quotes around "French" were meant to imply something different.

                                  1. re: Klunco

                                    True on the Paris thing. I ate some of the best vegetarian food in Paris back in 2000 and do not believe that I had to repeat restaurants for the whole 9 days x 2 meals a day.

                                    Edit: just saw my own chowhound bio where I answer the question of "Best meal I ever ate: La Victoire Supreme du Coeur (Paris) - disciples of Sri Chinmoy"

                                2. re: yarm

                                  Thanks for making the vegetarian case. While we lived there, my vegetarian girlfriend and I loved the occasional trip to Craigie. I'd heard the story you tell about Maw's attitude, but the options are limited for vegetarians. The one thing we learned was that while the Chef's Choice menu changed often for the regular guest, the vegetarian option was best ordered on an almost quarterly basis, because the options (so basically thinking and creativity) didn't change nearly as much.

                                  For the OP, I would suggest Bondir. While I didn't get the chance to try it before moving away, my veg girlfriend did on a visit back. And she loved it. And she doesn't eat seafood of any kind (just to be clear). So obviously that might fit with what you are looking for. Good luck.

                                  1. re: Canadian Tuxedo

                                    I had a great meal at Bondir about 15 months ago, but they were a little iffy on their knowledge of what vegetarianism is at the front of the house. After ordering a duo of vegetarian tasting meals, we were brought 3 breads -- one was all grain based but the other two were not. One was made with pork cracklings and the other was shrimp containing. We were not told which were which. And when it came for dessert, my dessert came with a gelatin-containing topping that I was not alerted to when I ordered it.

                                    The chef seemed into the food and all (we geeked out about strange Asian cabbage varietals), but they had no front of the house clue. And the person working at the table was not someone new to the industry either.

                                    Hopefully my incident was isolated, but still odd when I have seen better food knowledge from $15 a person establishments than $100+ per person ones.

                          2. re: yarm

                            Sounds like you missed an opportunity to have some fun with him, and perhaps reveal your plans with fellow vegetarians for world domination.

                            1. re: Niblet

                              My plans when dining at a new establishment include (1) enjoying it as stressfree as possible and (2) deciding if I want to return soon, sporadically, or never. It's his house, his rules; I can just choose to turn my back on it or embrace it. If a restaurant were my only option, I would be more willing to put up a fight, but here in Boston, they are still competing for my $$.

                            2. re: yarm

                              somehow, i think that the food is the thing. I return to Craigie even though there are aspects of the service that do not please me. You should consider returning.

                              Even for carnivores, veggies can be appealing.

                          3. re: yarm

                            I think Journeyman would be my first choice. Not a vegetarian myself, but they seem to really embrace it, not just tolerate and accommodate. On my last trip there had a party of four rather devoted meat-eaters, but ended up with several selections from the vegetarian side of the menu that turned out to be the highlights of the meal.

                            1. re: hcraddock

                              But you are stuck doing a no-choice tasting menu at Journeyman, is that right?

                              1. re: pollystyrene

                                Yes. They have one for omnivores and one that is vegetarian only. They allow you to pick courses from between the two if you want, although many of the early courses tend to overlap. On my last visit, our party of four had multiple allergies/aversions, and they had no problem working around it, tweaking a couple of the courses as necessary to make sure everyone got food they were happy with (and wouldn't kill them).

                                1. re: hcraddock

                                  That's good to know, although they still might not know what to do with the likes of me. I tend to steer away from even vegetarian tasting menus because I'm allergic to nuts (strike 2!) and don't like beets (I'm out!). Given those limitations, I'm amazed at how much delicious food I've managed to have dining out, in great part due to this board.

                          4. T.W. Food in Cambridge also has vegetarian options every night.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Bob Dobalina

                              Second Bob here. The T.W. Food vegetarian tasting menu is always very interesting and thoughtful. Enough so for me as an omnivore that I find myself leaning that way as often as not.

                            2. Vegetarian tasting menus I've really enjoyed: Journeyman, Craigie, T.W. Food, Oleana, Ten Tables JP.

                              Journeyman has seats at the counter where you can see them cooking, which is super-fun if you like that sort of thing. And regular tables, too.

                              Non-tasting menus: if you're willing to eat veggie yourself, True Bistro is more at the level of Oleana for formality, but is still upscale and very good. All vegan.

                              1. Do you guys consider Journeyman to be a "formal" place? I do, I think.

                                4 Replies
                                1. re: FinnFPM

                                  I would consider the food upscale and stylish, but the atmosphere doesn't necessarily read "formal" to me. I would not feel out of place in jeans, and the space has kind of a homey feel. It may be formal by Union Square standards, but that is not a hard feat to accomplish.

                                  1. re: hcraddock

                                    Haha. The lady considers it a "special" dinner, so I guess I tend to conflate the terms.

                                  2. re: FinnFPM

                                    I don't consider Journeyman to be formal at all, though I haven't been there in a year or so. In fact it has about the highest food-upscaleness-to-ambiance-upscaleness ratio of any restaurant I can remember.

                                    1. re: dfan

                                      Agree - it's in a repurposed garage....down an alley....in Somerville....

                                  3. Sorry, d for dosa, for highjacking the thread, but I'd just like to put a plea out to chefs to offer vegetarian dishes that don't include goat cheese. Goat cheese ravioli, goat cheese tarts, it seems to be harder and harder to find that token veggie dishon the menu that doesn't include it.

                                    We go out for mid-range or slightly higher as a family three or four times a year and have to eliminate many places that we'd like to try because that's all they offer. My son really dislikes it, although he is otherwise pretty open. I know from talking with others that he's not alone.

                                    1. I see that the original poster was looking for something less formal. However, others who do a search may want a more formal evening so I thought I'd recommend Salts in Cambridge. We went there for a special meal and it was quite pricey, but absolutely delightful. Everything about the experience was top notch and we thoroughly enjoyed our meal. We both had the vegetarian tasting menu (the website asks that you call 24 hours in advance) and my husband did the wine pairing with it. The food was amazing, the service was flawless, and we appreciated that the chef came out to chat with us during the dessert course. The portions were on the small side but the courses just kept coming and we were both stuffed by the end of the meal, taking most of the desserts home to enjoy the next day. If you're looking for a very nice experience (that has the corresponding price tag), I would have no problem recommending Salts. It was, without a doubt, one of the top 3 meals that we've ever had.

                                      3 Replies
                                      1. re: greentreez

                                        Do you remember any of the specifics of what you ate? Would love to hear.

                                        1. re: Bob Dobalina

                                          There were a lot of courses, so I don't remember everything. But off the top of my head, I remember a deconstructed french onion soup, beet salad, a delicious goat cheese & baby vegetable dish, a pasta dish, and perhaps a lemon tart for dessert. That makes it all sound very pedestrian but trust me when I say it was amazing. The presentation of every dish was superb. For instance, the goat cheese dish was some sort of whipped goat cheese spread on the base of a dish, dark crumbly savory "cookie" bits (made to look like dirt) sprinkled on top, with marinated baby carrots and other root vegetables that were upright in the goat cheese, so that the whole thing looked like a little vegetable patch. It was so cute & whimsical, but really delicious. Neither of us like beets at all but the salad was prepared in such a way that we enjoyed the beets quite a lot. We are not mushroom fans and I'm pretty sure I let them know that when we called (many times vegetarian menus are mushroom heavy) and they provided us with a beautiful evening.

                                          1. re: greentreez

                                            Thanks, greentreez - that's very helpful feedback.

                                      2. rialto does a lovely veg tasting menu and the little cafe area by the bar feels less formal than the dining room.

                                        1. Thanks for all the replies, Hounds. Based on the feedback, we chose Oleana for the anniversary dinner. My wife ordered the vegetarian chef's tasting menu and I ordered the meat version. We both enjoyed our meal but didn't think it was exceptional.

                                          As part of the non-vegetarian chef's tasting menu, I had fried mussels along with fried Hungarian peppers, grilled octopus skewers with olives on a bed of couscous, feta cheese and peppers and a beef dish. The octopus and mussels were great. The beef was certainly the low light, it seemed overcooked to me and the sweetish brown sauce that it came in seemed to overwhelm the taste of the meat.

                                          In one of her courses, my wife got the same couscous, feta cheese, peppers and onions that was served under the octopus skewers for me. Other than that, for her, there was an unusual (and delicious) hummus dip for a starter, a good soup, and a falafel wrap with beets that was also quite good.

                                          Dessert was fairly standard, again nothing exceptional.

                                          We also found the space to be a bit cramped. We were seated in the area overlooking the back yard and there were times when I couldn't quite make out whether the waiter was talking to us or to someone at the neighboring tables.

                                          All in all, a decent experience but probably not one we would want to repeat in a hurry.