Thursday, August 25, 2011

A Vegetarian Goes on the Road Part V: If You Happen to Be In . . .

I've spent a lot of time recapping my road trip and mentioning eating on the go - airports, rest stops, etc.  However, I also wanted to highlight some fine dining, aka "white tablecloth" restaurants in some of the cities I visited that happened to have nice vegetarian options:

Columbus, OH: Rigsby's Kitchen,  - Rigsby's Kitchen is located in the Short North area of Columbus, which is a vibrant downtown area with a number of restaurants.  We had a business lunch here, and I was very impressed with the menu.  I had the D'Angelo, a pasta with sun-dried tomatoes and fresh parsley.  There weren't a lot of veg options other than that on the lunch menu, but, I took a peek at the dinner menu and saw some additional veggie choices - including a roasted beet salad and eggplant parmigana.

Windsor, ON: Nico Ristorante - Nico Ristorante is a tiny, elegant restaurant in Windsor's Little Italy, just a few blocks from the river that separates Windsor from Detroit.  The menu changes frequently - seven or eight dishes are handwritten in the front of the menu daily by the chef.  But rest assured that you will have a variety of vegetarian options!  I had an absolutely astounding tomato and fennel salad, as well as a gnocchi with a delicious mushroom sauce.

Grand Rapids, MI: Bentham's  - Bentham's is located in the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel, an enormous historic property in downtown grand rapids.  At Bentham's, there are a few good vegetarian options on the dinner menu.  From the small plates, I sampled the kumato tomato salad and the asparagus hummus with grilled flatbread.  For dinner, there was an option called the "vegan vacation," which had roasted veggies, tofu, legumes and rice.  I thought about ordering it without the tofu, but I instead opted for the mac & cheese, which included smoked gouda, artichokes, broccoli and tomatoes.  It's listed as including chicken on the menu, but the kitchen was happy to leave it out.

Valparaiso, IN: Bistro 157 - Bistro 157 is one of a number of restaurants that opened as part of the revitalization of downtown Valparaiso.   I got a great tip from one of the folks we were visiting whose wife is a vegan.  If you call the restaurant a few days ahead, they'll be happy to have vegan options available.  We didn't give them enough notice, but I still was able to have a nice vegetarian meal from their regular menu.  The Greek Salad with Haloumi Cheese was very good.  I also was able to get a version of their rigatoni without sausage - it came with a tomato confit, broccoli rabe and roasted fennel and was quite good.

Bethesda, MD: Food & Wine Co.   - Okay, this is cheating a bit, as Maryland is home.  But, while I'm recommending higher end restaurants with good veggie options, I have to give a shout out to Food & Wine Co.  Located in the old Pizzeria Uno's at Wisconsin Avenue, Food & Wine has a robust menu with a number of veggie choices.  Last Saturday, I enjoyed a roasted beet salad with pistachios and goat cheese, as well as the Spaghettini with asparagus, heirloom tomatoes, eggplant and parsley.  The eggplant was cooked amazingly well, and the dish was very flavorful.  Other veg options on the menu include a portabello burger, tomato-watermelon gazpacho and a variety of interesting house made pizzas.

Here are some tips for vegetarian fine dining, no matter where you are:

Don't Be Afraid to Ask if It Can Be Made Veg: My experience is that most fine dining and higher end casual dining restaurants are happy to make vegetarian versions of menu items.  These types of restaurants are more likely to make your meal to order, so special requests are more easily accommodated.  You may have less leeway if the restaurant has a set, prix fixe menu, so in those cases, call ahead.

Use the Internet: Almost every restaurant has a PDF of its lunch and dinner menus online, so you'll be able to get a sense of veg options before you sit down.

Check out the Vegetarian Group's Resource Guide: This handy site has listings of vegan and vegetarian restaurants in all 50 states & Washington, DC, as well as the Canadian provinces and Puerto Rico.  And, if you're going further abroad, VRG also has some links to international options.  You can also send updates on your favorite restaurants to VRG!

Readers, what are some of your favorite vegetarian friendly fine dining restaurants?

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