In his 47 years, the Mumbai native says, he has never knowingly eaten meat; for the past 22 he has followed a vegan diet. But his routine isn’t austere. “I live to eat,” he says. Dalal’s job as a physicist puts him on the road (“New Orleans is tough”), where to avoid the standby baked potato he consults
. Here at home, he eats out four to five meals a week and finds plenty to fill up on: at Science Club near Dupont Circle, Ovo Simply Veggie in College Park, the monthly vegan brunch at Muse in the Corcoran Gallery of Art and Sunflower in Falls Church, which he likes for its vegan “sushi.”
Tonight at J&G, we consult our astute server, because all of the entrees and grilled items are off-limits, and ask for the kitchen’s help. Dinner begins with salads, initially a letdown only because salads are so predictable. But these are a breed apart, an elegant mix of beets, olives, minced basil, red chilies (executive chef Philippe Reininger loves heat) and more, modified from the market salad (hold the cheese) on the menu. For main courses, Reininger thoughtfully weaves together components already listed in other dishes on the menu to create fashion statements. Pan-seared tofu on a Malaysian-style ginger and chili sauce is cooled down with diced celery and basil oil. For a second dish, he arranges root vegetables and tiny mushrooms with parsnip chips, olive crumbs and a swipe of parsnip puree made with fresh coconut. Our server couldn’t be more conscientious about detailing each plate. We aren’t eating meat, but he makes us feel as welcome as the guys ordering the 20-ounce, $54 bone-in rib-eye.
Testing France and Spain
Fast-forward to Marcel’s, where we have to look past courses one, two, three, four and even five on the French menu before seeing any meat-free options (in the cheese and dessert sections). Chef Robert Wiedmaier is known for his boudin blanc and rack of lamb; could he be as masterful with vegetables? After we make our desires known to the gregarious waiter, we find out.
While other diners are greeted with an amuse bouche of short ribs and foie gras in a tiny twist of pastry, we receive a “bonbon” filled with pureed butternut squash and set on a sassy chili glaze. Nice. A wavy black bowl in the shape of a shell holds slow-cooked lentils, caramelized onions and butter-roasted dates in a cup of brik pastry, an Indian-inspired appetizer dusted with cayenne and turmeric. Next up: a timbale of sweet pea puree captured in a tent of steamed bibb lettuce, and feathery-light egg noodles draped in a light pesto and curled around roasted vegetables. A four-part garden party follows: sunny yellow squash gratin over spinach, truffle-treated asparagus and artichokes, a tiny skillet of Peruvian and other potatoes, plus a divine saffron risotto (of course) dappled with chive oil.