Friday, July 24, 2009

Restaurant Week Roundup

Here it is, the moment you've been waiting for... the Summer Restaurant Week Roundup! Though most participating restaurants have limited vegetarian choices (and hardly any vegan selections), some places do elevate vegetarian dining and are really worth a visit. Here's how the three I visited stack up:

Butter: This resto is better known for the Paris Hilton crowd and it's Food Network maven head chef, Alexandra Guarnaschelli, than it's food. I visited Butter on a Wednesday evening, and certainly in part to Restaurant Week, it was a scene of decked out young girls trying to play spot-the-celebrity. Outside of the wannabe clientele and the dimly lit, super trendy main dining room with fake branches sprawling across the vaulted ceiling that screamed trying too hard, we did have an overall enjoyable night. A vegetarian option was available in both the appetizer and entree offerings; vegans, unfortuantely, will find themelves stuck, as even the regular menu offers no vegan options. I started with an heirloom tomato salad with basil and French feta, drizzled in balsamic- I'm not sure when two or three small slices of tomatoes, a few tiny pieces of feta counted as a real salad, but considering models "eat" here, I guess I should've expected as much! My entree made up for my paltry salad- the wild spinach and dandelion tortellini in a lemon creme fraiche was a bit heavy and creamy for my liking, but the flavor combination of lemon plus the slight bitterness of the greens made for a good pairing. For dessert, I'll admit I thought the raspberry beignets would be a little less like Dunkin Donuts, but there they were, with a vanilla dipping sauce, and I wondered if asking for a Coolatta with my beignets would be too much. I eagerly stole a bite of my date's lime sorbet, which was a much better choice of dessert! The meal, overall, was pretty good, but the banter with our funny and personable waiter, Billy, was what really made our night. If you love trendy eateries with limited veg options, Butter is worth a visit; otherwise, do as vegans would do as skip on the Butter.

Butter, 415 Lafayette Street, between E. 4th and Astor Place, 212-253-2828

Cafe Boulud: A cafe usually implies casual dining, but at a recent lunch at Cafe Boulud, the formal dining atmosphere exceeded my expectations, and it was nice to be in a sophisticated resto after a night at trendy Butter. As usual, with no vegan options and limited vegetarian options on the Restaurant Week menu (though you will find more, albeit expensive, options on their regular lunch menu), I hoped Cafe Boulud would do right by vegetarian dining- and I'm happy to report this was not just the best meal I've had for Restaurant Week, but the best meal I've had in awhile! I started with a chilled carrot ginger soup with lime and drizzled with tarragon oil- amazing! Unlike many carrot-ginger soups, Cafe Boulud's was neither bland, nor overpowered by the ginger. A hint of lime and the tarragon combination was a fine addition, and I quickly devoured the little bit of perfection in a bowl. For an entree, my veg option was a spinach and goat cheese ravioli in a tomato marmalade and basil oil. Though I do wish that restaurants would go beyond just making stuffed pasta as the sole vegetarian entree, this ravioli was also quite good. The tang from the goat cheese was a nice complement to the sweet tomato marmalade, and the pasta had a perfect al dente bite. A beautifully presented vanilla creme brulee with raspberry sorbet and poached raspberries rounded out our lunch- though decadent, it was not heavy. After my dessert plate was cleared, I leaned back in my chair, completely satisfied and spoiled by the whole Cafe Boulud experience. Vegetarians looking to treat themselves... you've struck gold!

Cafe Boulud, 20 E. 76th Street, between Madison and Fifth, 212-772-2600

Del Posto: Admittedly, I'm a huge Mario Batali fan, and having lunched at Del Posto for Restaurant Week last year, I was excited to repeat the culinary experience again this summer. But beyond my high expectations, this Del Posto visit was just disappointing- and even more discouraging, the menu was exactly the same as last year's. One of the vegetarian appetizers, a chilled minestrone soup, was just plain bland this time around; the solo vegetarian entree, the spinach garganelli with a slow-cooked tomato sauce, was chewy... and beyond al dente chewy, it was microwave chewy. I was shocked. My dessert, a hazelnut chocolate pudding, was also mediocre- a kid could probably mix chocolate pudding and Nutella together for the same effect. For a restaurant of that caliber, and one I had been excited about just last summer, this was a real shame. I understand that some restaurants don't always put their expensive, star dishes on their Restaurant Week menu, but at least these less expensive items should at least be cooked properly to entice diners to return. Perhaps it was just a particular cook that day, who knows... but I do know that of the restaurants in the Batali empire, I'm sticking with Lupa.

Del Posto, 85 Tenth Avenue, between 15th and 16th Streets, 212-497-8090

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