Long relegated to side-dish status and considered an afterthought on many respectable menus, vegetables have made a resurgence. Items once held in lukewarm regard are now en vogue, standing as pillars of acclaimed tasting menus across America.
In their move toward vegetables-as-mains, high-end American restaurants have taken a cue from famous European trendsetters such as Noma (Denmark) and Mirazur (France). But these ambitious domestic restaurants aren’t just retracing the steps of their European forebears: They’re blazing trails away from the ordinary in unexpected new directions.
The following vegetable-heavy restaurants aren’t necessarily vegetarian- or vegan-only. But each exercises great care in preparing vegetables with the same flair it would poultry, meat, or seafood. For that extra effort, these restaurants deserve credit from omnivores, vegetarians and carnivores alike.
Qui – Austin, Texas
Qui’s appeal goes beyond the subtle lines and lighting of its graceful interior to its bold tasting menus. Chef Paul Qui crafts two tasting menus each day — one focused on meat dishes, the other showcasing vegetables. The vegetable menu is priced at $55, offering solid value relative to other restaurants in Qui’s stratosphere.
The vegetable menu’s headliner is a rich, smoky, and filling Filipino Peanut Curry, which marries pan-Asian influences in a dish that feels like a main course, even surrounded by six equally substantial plates. Stick around for one of Qui’s signature desserts, such as Winter Squash with Apricot, Spiced Cake, and Caramelized White Chocolate. It’s a brave array of flavors, and it’s one not to be missed.
1600 E Sixth Street
Austin, Texas 78702
Contra – New York City
Billed by its chefs as “contemporary New York cuisine,” Contra places an emphasis on fresh ingredients and interesting preparations on its five-course tasting menu. Each dish at this speakeasy-style Lower East Side newcomer throws something new and unexpected into the mix, with many of the dishes bolstered by surprisingly hearty vegetables.
Contra chefs Fabian von Hauske and Jeremiah Stone mix up their menus often, but one constant is that at least one of the five items will place a vegetable at the forefront. On a recent iteration of the Contra menu, the vegetable-focused dish was a combination of Squash, Persimmon, and Ham. Another dish complements Swordfish with Treviso, a vegetable sourced from the northern reaches of Italy.
138 Orchard Street
New York, NY 10022
Canlis – Seattle, Washington
Canlis is the standard-bearer for fine contemporary Northwestern fare. Perched high above Seattle’s lush foliage, Canlis has served some of Seattle’s most elegantly plated — and expensively priced — food since 1950. Priced at $85 or $100, executive chef Jason Franey’s three- and five-course menus provide meat, seafood, and vegetables in roughly equal parts.
While Canlis is an omnivore’s dream, it’s also accessible to vegetarians and vegans, for whom Franey prepares specially tailored tasting menus. Some standout selections from Canlis’ array of earth-sourced items include Sunchoke with black garlic, parsley, and lemon, and a main course of Brassicas, served surrounded by roasted romanesco, cauliflower, and broccoli.
2576 Aurora Avenue N
Seattle, WA 98109
Del Posto – New York City
Del Posto is the brainchild of NYC-based celebrity chef extraordinaire Mario Batali. Although some of Batali’s Italian menus are meat-heavy, his west side restaurant, Del Posto, offers a 100-percent vegan tasting menu that stands among New York City’s most creative, vegetable-focused or otherwise.
Del Posto’s tasting menu — which earns added points for the difficulty of creating rich, savory dishes without the aid of milk, butter, or eggs — runs $145 for five dishes and $179 for the eight-dish option. Batali approximates the heartiness of a meat entree with his Slow-Roasted Turnip, ensconced in olive oil and thyme and served in a savory mix of wilted turnip greens, Chinese mustard, and a marsala wine reduction.
View photos of Del Posto’s vegan tasting menu and enjoy a full run-down of the flavors at Serious Eats.
85 Tenth Avenue
New York, NY 10011