Chef Todd Gray in the kitchen at Equinox downtown. (Scott Suchman/For The Washington Post)

GOOD/EXCELLENT

If you’re looking for memorable modern American cooking, I’d send you to a dozen other places around town. If you’re in search of a meatless meal with some pomp near the White House, allow me to introduce you to Equinox, where chef-owner Todd Gray is taking some cues from his (mostly) vegetarian wife and business partner and spreading the message that you don’t need fish, fowl or flesh to draw people to the table.

Introduced two summers ago, his vegan tasting menu is beautiful and bountiful, five courses for $65 and not a sinker in the bunch. Green garlic and celery root bisque gets its creaminess from almond milk, its prick from pickled fiddlehead ferns. Belgian endive entices with smoked walnuts and burnt maple vinaigrette. Twisty pasta tinted with red wine and fleshed out with mushrooms, Brussels sprout petals and gremolata brings dinner to a climax. (In a thoughtful gesture, the chef allows the “vegan curious” to order a dish or two from the tasting list.)

If I have a complaint, it’s only that black bean chili with walnuts plays the heavy when I’m eager to embrace the light after a winter that wouldn’t go away. Gray repeats the vegan theme for Sunday brunch, where patrons can catch him in action behind the tofu “scramble” station. All this is not to say carnivores will go away hungry; house-made tagliatelle with duck Bolognese and artichoke chips finds me finishing every strand of pasta.


Casareccia pasta is tinted with red wine and dressed with mushrooms. (Scott Suchman/For The Washington Post)

Hearty black bean and walnut chili — perhaps more suited to winter appetites. (Scott Suchman/For The Washington Post)

Desserts are more artful than ever, too. Witness the banana napoleon, a round tower of pastry and roasted banana cream elevated with a side scoop of coconut-lime sorbet. My point is, the city could use a good (full-time) vegetarian restaurant, and Equinox tastes up for the challenge.

2.5 stars

→818 Connecticut Ave. NW. 202-331-8118.www.equinoxrestaurant.com.

Open: Lunch Monday through Friday, dinner daily, brunch Sunday.

Prices: Lunch entrees $16 to $22, dinner entrees $24 to $34, buffet brunch $30.

Sound check: 72 decibels / Must speak with raised voice.

Previously (2012):

This review appears in The Washington Post’s 2015 Spring Dining Guide.