Saturday, January 31, 2009

Vegetate: Just like the name says

We visited this restaurant near the convention center with our friends Jeremy and Jennifer to celebrate Jennifer's new job in the administration. She is a vegetarian and is always on the lookout for decent vegetarian places, which I suspect from my limited experience is a pretty tough search. Anyhow, Vegetate is in a neighborhood which one might say is, um...unpretentious? not yet suffering from gentrification? a throwback to yesteryear? Well, maybe all of the above, but the good news was that we found a parking place right in front (even better, there is a big picture window so I could keep an eye on the car, which I found vaguely reassuring even though the neighborhood isn't that bad, really. I think.)

The restaurant is very spare and minimal, kind of in the mindset of minimalist vegetarianism I suppose, but nicely lit and quite welcoming. There is a smallish dining room on the first floor and apparently some other seating on the second floor which we didn't see.

We were greeted and seated promptly as the room was not crowded. We quickly ordered wine from the short but interesting and very reasonably priced list, then turned to scanning the menu. I am sure Jennifer was relieved not to have to look at the tail end of the menu for the chef's vegetable plate or some other afterthought and instead to be able to choose from the entire menu. We were too. The menu was quite interesting and well split up.

At our table, various people ordered the vegetate burgers, risotto croquettes, a green salad, edamame, sesame crusted tofu, and a Spanish least I remember all of those things. There might have been more. The burgers were surprisingly tasty if a little lacking in condiments (isn't ketchup a vegetable?) and the croquettes were quite good. I ordered the tofu as a "large plate" and it was quite a generous portion..I ended up giving a third of it to Jeremy, who can really pack it away, and a good chunk to Michael and still had plenty for myself. Michael was a little un-thrilled with his Spanish omelette since as he said, "I could make this at home" but I suppose there's only so much you can do with such a thing.

I was actually quite satisfied and uncharacteristically didn't order dessert, but Jeremy and Michael ordered the apple crisp which personally I felt was long on crisp and a bit short on apple (it was also vegan, which is an awfully high hurdle for any kind of baked goods and one for which this particular dish fell a little short).

The tab, with two glasses of white for Michael and a bottle of pleasant but undistinguished red for the rest of us (some sort of Chilean Malbec, as I recall) came to a bit under $90 per couple before tip which qualifies as a cheap night out in my book. Service, I must say, was a bit erratic as our waitperson tried to take an order for wine about four times in the first five minutes we were sitting; evidently becoming bored with our indecision, she retaliated by disappearing from some time after that until we had to flag down reinforcements. She then made appearances at irregular intervals thereafter before apparently being replaced by an understudy.

I can't say that the food or ambiance at Vegetate were great, but they were certainly pleasant. Vegetarian cooking, like kosher cooking, puts a fairly stiff handicap in front of the average chef and seems only fair to grade on some sort of a curve; with that in mind I will say that it was a very enjoyable evening and were I for some reason looking for a vegetarian dinner, this would certainly be worth a repeat visit. I will also say that post-dinner, I did feel quite satisfied and yet very comfortable so maybe there's something to this vegetarian stuff after all.

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