Veggie Surprise

The restaurants you’d least expect are making meatless dishes a top priority

August 28, 2012

The vegetables in Blue Duck Tavern’s risotto change seasonally.

The Pig sounds like the kind of restaurant that would make a vegetarian very nervous. The Logan Circle spot, which opened in May, serves its breadbasket with pork lard-laced butter and sells a dessert called “sundae bloody sundae,” so named for the pig’s blood in chef Garret Fleming’s special chocolate ice cream.

Scan the menu, however, and you’ll notice that about a third of the items are meat-free.

“It’s not a vegetarian mecca, but you won’t be disappointed,” says co-owner Josh Hahn, who often opts for the vegan chickpea hash with mushrooms, chard and salsa verde. He says diners have liked balancing the heavy, meaty dishes with an heirloom tomato salad and some roasted cauliflower.

If a pork-centric place like the Pig can cater to nonmeat eaters, then anyplace can — and some restaurants in Washington are highlighting unexpected vegetarian menus.

At the Blue Duck Tavern in the Park Hyatt, chef Sebastien Archambault noticed that vegetarian diners were often unsure about what they could order.

“Every time we got a request, we needed to point out the options and explain what we could modify,” he says.

That triggered him to prepare a separate vegetarian menu, which he introduced early this summer.

“So now if they ask, ‘Can the chef do anything for me?’ we can say we have a whole menu,” Archambault says.

Customer requests were the impetus for the “Meatless Monday” specials at chef Domenico Cornacchia’s three local restaurants. “In our industry, it’s always the case that you have to listen to what clients are looking for,” he says. “The market is demanding light versions of cuisine.” That includes omnivores looking to take a break from their usual.

In March, the Assaggi Mozzarella Bar in Bethesda began offering extra vegetarian dishes once a week. The experiment proved so successful that Cornacchia rolled out the concept at Assaggi Osteria and Bistro Vivant in McLean. The reaction has influenced the daily menus, too, which Cornacchia says he’s revamping to include more vegetarian choices.

For the chefs, it can be a challenge to devise creative dishes that aren’t centered around a chop or breast. “I want to have something more sophisticated and different than a pasta,” says Archambault, whose offerings include toasted farro, risotto and a smoked ricotta tart. “You need to switch your brain a little bit.”

Cornacchia’s technique is to pick a vegetable — say, zucchini blossoms — to serve as the main ingredient. “You can treat them as pasta dough, stuff them and bake them in the oven,” he says.

His favorite veggie dish? A dessert made with cinnamon, chocolate and eggplant. “It’s an amazing combination,” he says.

And it’s certainly no weirder than pig’s blood.

Table Tops

Whatever you decide to order at Blue Duck Tavern, chef Sebastien Archambault wants to whet your appetite with something you won’t feel guilty nibbling. Since Aug. 15, diners have been greeted with a plate of raw vegetables to snack on along with the breadbasket, which has gone from white to wheat.

Vicky Hallett is a MisFits columnist and the Fit editor for Express.
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Christopher Porter · August 28, 2012