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Vegetate: Cozy Consumables

Abstract: Anytime a new vegetarian restaurant opens in DC, it piques my interest. I've been wanting to go to Vegetate since it opened, and finally decided to make it a Restaurant Week outing along with Ryan and Huyen.

Players:Huyen, Ryan and Viren.

Prologue: To Cliché Or Not To ...

I hate to start a narrative with a cliché, but ...bah, who am I kiddding? My stated antipathy towards clichés is nothing but a facade to hide myself from the inevitable harsh critiques. "Viren started off with a cliché!" would go the cry. "He used the oft-worn phrase a mite too much" will be whispered in the dark, dank recesses of many an IM chat. All the while, I will be cowering and berating myself for being such a fool and destroying my reputation. Of course, then I come to my senses and realize that neither my reputation nor my readers' critiques are as towering as envisioned. So, back to the cliché that needs must start my akward prose:

Act I: Weather and Grammar: Intersections

It was a dark and stormy night. This was brought to my notice when I opened the door to let Ryan and Huyen in. Apparently between the time I went to the gym in the morning and the time to leave for The City (yes, it's in caps...us poor suburbanites must speak of DC with the proper reverence). The wind was blowing something fierce creating miniature whirlwinds of snowflakes which were melting 1.12 inches above ground (shades of thiotimoline!). My immediate thought was that this was perfect weather for a nice mug of hot chocolate -- unfortunately, that wasn't quite in the books. So, girding our loins, metaphorically speaking, we set off for Vegetate. This particular destination was an easy one since Ryan and I had both expressed an interest in going there when it opened. So, you, Gentle Reader, are spared the plethora of extra run-on sentences, dangling participles and tedious writing that would be entailed by my having to describe the decision process in this narrative (you're still reading the rest of the appalling prose of mine, so that probably doesn't do you much good).

Act II: Public Transportation, An Ode To

Vegetate is located in Shaw, just south of the U street corridor. All that meant to me is that we would have to switch lines to get there. We could have walked from Metro center, but the weather caused a veto from one of the party. Riding the Metro has got to be a favorite activity of mine. There's no better place to people-watch than the subway of a major city (though, almost by definition, minor cities don't have subways). DC's subway is even better since most of the times that I do end up in it, it's just crowded enough to make it bustle with life (but never quite 'hustle') without being packed enough to make my claustrophobia act up. It gives me the time to people-watch in a relaxed accomodating environment. And just for your statistical enjoyment: by my observations, approximately 4.4 people out of every 10 riding the metro are either completely engrossed in listening to their iPods or are in a state of numbed apathy and, as such, wouldn't notice if a crazed homicidal rabbit started lobbing easter eggs at them. Though, to be fair, the rabbit would impinge upon the former group's awareness when it started stealing their video iPods to see if they have episodes of Baywatch in them. But, you get the picture -- Metro: good, people-watching: fun.

Even with changing from the orange to the green line, we were still left with a minor walk to get to Vegetate. Normally, I wouldn't even mention the 5-6 blocks that we had to walk, but it felt like the city had been turned into a maze of wind tunnels. I'm pretty sure that we were only making forward progress due to intense shivering on our parts. After some brownian motion, we managed to find Vegetate, and rushed to it with all the eagerness of pigs to mud.

Act III: Warming Up

Upon entering Vegetate, you immediately get a sense of coziness and an undercurrent of fun (luckily both are embodied in their food as well). The restaurant has 2 floors: the main floor is composed of a small area for dining (and the kitchen) while the top floor consists of a bar/dining area and a seperate dance floor with a DJ booth. The walls downstairs are bright and covered with fun pop art. I think the art changes based on which artist is being exhibited. The upstairs has more of the mood lighting feel to it -- muted ambience that felt odd without pulsating rhythms being played. Beyond the room with the dance floor is a small patio, which would be a great place to have dinner in the summer.

Even though it was relatively early, 6:30ish, the restaurant was packed. We had to wait a few minutes for a table to be readied, so we went upstairs and sat on the lone couch near the bar. (just a note: if you do use the upstairs restrooms, make sure you are feeling strong -- the doors require more elbow grease than one would expect). We were soon seated downstairs next to a calming green wall. The tables and chairs had an almost cafe-ish aesthetic (an upscale cafe, to be sure) which together with the walls and art gave the whole place a relaxed, fun feel to it. However, we soon had better things to think about than the decor. Like, say, drinks.

Act IV: Drink Me, Eat Me

We ended up going the non-alcoholic route, though now I can't remember why. So, turning my attention to the "other" drinks section, I received my first disappointment: they not only didn't have a good organic hot chocolate, but they didn't have hot chocolate at all. Imagine that. So, seeing as how I was in the mood for a hot drink, I settled for a chai, which, considering my Indian roots replete with strong, milky, spicy teas, was a doomed enterprise from the start. I've never quite managed to like "chai" mainly because I think it's a pale shadow of what it should be. Of course, most people here probably couldn't swallow the Indian chai so it's all for the best. As soon as we sat down, we were served their version of an amuse bouche: pickled green beans. This, while at first tasted strange, turned out to be one of those foods that grew on us. Right about now, you're thinking "Pickled green beans and chai? Yuk". Luckily we had finished the beans by the time the drinks arrived and didn't have to experience that blending of tastes first-hand.

The one unfortunate aspect of going to Vegetate during Restaurant Week was that they were only serving the RW menu. I had earlier looked at their full menu online and was very interested intrying several menu items. Alas, that was not to be. The RW menu was pretty decent, if limited in choice.

First Course
Wild Mushroom Trio
wild mushroom baba, tempura oyster mushroom,
and enoki mushroom salad

or
Smokey Tomato Bisque
with a balsamic reduction
and grilled croustade
Second Course
White Bean Cassoulet
with roasted turnips and rutabaga, smoked Portobello mushrooms,
and braised tofu-topped with toasted bread crumbs and a grainy mustard aioli

or
Truffled Crispy Fingerling Potatoes and Roasted Wild Mushrooms
with braised leeks, porcini vinaigrette, and arugula salad
Third Course
Dark Chocolate Cake
with caramel "creme anglaise" and raspberry coulis
topped with shaved chocolate

or
Pineapple and Dried Cherry Fruit Crisp
with oatmeal crumbs and coconut sorbet
They had obviously put some thought into the menu: it was completely vegan and gave you just enough disparate choices that most people would find something to eat in each course.

Act V: Mushroom Fantasies

Since the choice was so limited, between the three of us, we managed to order everything on the menu. The one thing that stood out after we had the food was that Vegetate handled their mushrooms very well. The mushroom appetizer was really good, with the wild mushroom baba -- a mushroom paté -- with its wonderful texture and complex taste, providing an excellent base for showing off the mushrooms. The other appetizer, a tomato bisque didn't let us down either, with the reduction adding just the kind of subtle flavor that tends to go well with a creamy tomato taste.

The food kept arriving in a timely fashion and we didn't have to wait long for anything. We had a nice server, who seemed pretty well-informed and was on the ball. So, we soon we were staring at the bean cassoulet and the truffled potatoes. The bean cassoulet seemed like an example of a dish that was trying too hard. The cassoulet, a dish normally made with beans and meats slow-cooked into a stew, was pretty good. However, the braised tofu didn't mesh well with the rest and had a taste that not only was markedly separate from the rest but one that stoutly refused to play well with the others. It felt like I was having two different dishes. The mustard aioli on the tofu was a wonderful taste and did much to mute my disappointment of the taste disparity. The other entreé certainly didn't have the same problem and turned out pretty decent. The mushrooms there were also nicely done and worked with the potatoes and leeks well.

Not Quite My Just Desserts

The portions for the first two courses were just right and so we had enough space for dessert -- not that I would ever be caught dead skipping dessert. I, of course, went for the dark chocolate cake. I't pretty instinctive by now, and certainly a habit I need to get rid of. This was a case in point: the dark chocolate cake was nice but nothing special. I liked the fact that I could taste the chocolate in the dessert, but the texture, the moistness and its accompaniments didn't really work in its favor. On the other hand, the pineapple and dried cherry fruit crisp looked really good and Huyen certainly liked it.

Ratings

Service Likeable and fast
Decor Warm, fun colors combined with dim lights
Food Cozy vegetarian fare

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