Sunday, March 29, 2009

Vegetarian for a Day

Green Zebra interior photo courtesy of Mariani's Virtual Gourmet.

F and I are not vegetarians. As is evident in this blog, we like our meat. Most of our dinners consist of 1/3 pork or chicken or fish, 1/3 vegetables, and 1/3 grain, and it’s all I can do to sneak those vegetables into the equation. If it were completely up to me, I would cook a few vegetarian dishes a week. But when I make a ragout or an eggplant lasagna, F eats in silence and when prodded admits, “It’s good. But it would be better with meat.”

As described in the previous post, my sister B is essentially a vegetarian. When ordering a “design your own” sandwich, she will circle the entire vegetable section without prejudice. So when B came to visit, I embraced the opportunity to finally try a restaurant where I knew F would never willingly eat: the vegetarian Green Zebra. We made our reservations and invited F to join us, if he was so inclined. “There’s no meat at all?” he asked. Assured that there would, in fact, be no meat on the menu, F stocked up on a pulled-pork sandwich a few hours before dinner and agreed to accompany us “if only for the dessert.”

We arrived at Green Zebra in the midst of a raging downpour, complete with sleet and howling winds. The hostess led us to a table near the window, with a lovely view of the gray sky and rain-streaked street. The room was painted in muted greens and browns and dotted with pots of towering bamboo. We were in a little rainforest all our own.

The waiter provided a quick lesson on the menu. The dishes were relatively small and meant to be shared; he recommended three to four plates per person. The menu started with light, leafy dishes and soups and worked its way down to heaver plates of mushrooms, lentils, and creams. There were four distinct sections, and we decided to order one dish from each, forgoing the suggested three to four plates per person. To start, we ordered Honey Crisp Apples, Fresh Horseradish, Tarragon, Hazelnuts and both soups because we couldn’t decide between them: Thai Spiced Carrot Soup, Crispy Rice Noodles and Sweet Onion and Garlic Soup, Truffle Cream.

The carrot soup was a vivid orange with electric green foam. At once spicy and tangy, this was B’s favorite dish of the evening, while I was reluctant to share the onion and garlic soup. Its presentation was imaginative—if a little pretentious. The truffle cream arrived first, at the bottom of a white dish. Then the waiter poured the soup into the bowl from a cast-iron tea kettle. The cream spread throughout the soup, while a daub rose to the top, so you could garnish a spoon of soup with a hint of truffle. It was just the soup I wanted on such a damp, cold evening.

And F loved the apple dish. The plate was painted with a light streak of green horseradish, topped with a crispy stack of julienned apples and hazelnuts that appeared to have been lightly fried.

For the next course, we chose Foraged Mushroom Dumplings, Tofu, Thai Basil, Baby Bok Choy, Star Anise Broth and Olive Oil Confit Fingerlings, Dijon Mustard, Parmesan, Truffle, and a side dish of Spiced Edamame.

The edamame was salty and zesty and went very quickly. I could have done without the fingerlings, which were good, but pretty much just fancy potato wedges. B and I both liked the mushroom dumplings, which arrived in a star anise broth with plenty of green vegetables. The dumpling dough was chewy and slightly peppery, and made the dish.

For dessert, we ordered Cream Cheese Beignets, Carrot Cake Ice Cream, Ginger Snaps, Sugared Mandarin Peels and Chocolate Cake, Creme Fraiche Ice Cream, Salted Caramels, as well as the Lemon Pound Cake, Vanilla Gelato, Mandarin Slices from the "sweet bites" section.

The lemon pound cake was very good, but again, it tasted like pound cake should, without being particularly interesting.

But the other two desserts! The chocolate cake was heavy and soft and warm and the ice cream was flaky and sweet. It was accompanied by wrapped caramels that melted as you opened the wrappers. And the beignets! I took one bite and nearly leapt from my seat with joy. The soft, delicate beignet disintegrated as soon as it touched the tongue, leaving sugar crystals in its wake. The subtle cream cheese filling added a hint of tang. The carrot cake ice cream was creamy and tasted of cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice. It was a little heady for me, but B professed to love it.

We drove home in the rain, full and happy. I thoroughly enjoyed being vegetarian for a day—everything was so green and leafy. B seemed to love the entire Green Zebra experience and even F the meat-and-potatoes man liked this meal. I was nearly convinced that F and I could be vegetarians, if we could eat like this every day. I slept soundly, dreaming of truffles and bambooand woke up Sunday morning hankering for bacon.

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