Sunday, March 25, 2007


Except for the past three Thanksgivings, I’ve been a vegetarian for over 20 years. So I rooted for the vegan/vegetarian fine dining establishment Vegetate, which recently won a hard-fought liquor license battle. Full disclosure here: I, along with several hundred neighbors, two Advisory Neighborhood Commissions and two District of Columbia City Council members, was part of the effort that recently and successfully opposed the expansion of a local nuisance establishment’s liquor license. Read more about it here. After that experience, I sympathize fully with anyone who has had to appear before the District of Columbia Alcoholic Beverage Control Board.

Anyway, I finally tried Vegetate last night. My vegan in-laws went several months back and said it was ho-hum. So my expectations were modest. But I loved, loved Vegetate. Note that Vegetate does not take reservations for parties of fewer than six. So my three friends and I agreed to meet there at 7:00pm. That was the perfect time to arrive. We got a table right away. The food was outstanding.

For starters, each table gets a shot glass of crispy marinated string beans, instead of bread. Yeah, it doesn’t sound appetizing, but they are yummy!

The wait staff were knowledgeable about food and wine pairings. I ordered a glass of medium-bodied cab from the short but well-chosen wine list. Be warned that wine is not generously poured and they serve it in stemless glasses, which make it hard to determine how much wine is left in the glass, especially in dim lighting. But stemless is the trendy new thing. It works well with red wine.

I ordered the sesame tofu, but after my spouse ordered the same thing, I changed my mind and opted for the grilled portabello mushroom served with a garlicky-smelling root vegetable puree (can’t remember what it was) with crispy browned onions on top and a side order of collard greens. If you’re like me and don’t like a huge dinner, the portabello (marketed as a "small plate") was ample. The side order of collard greens was crunchy and flavorful. They were sauteed lightly – not boiled to death and permeated with pork fat like in typical southern cooking. The cab complimented my meal quite nicely. Moreover, almost everything on the menu was vegan. Vegetate offers a handful of items that contain dairy products or eggs, and they are clearly marked as so on the menu. Hubby’s three slabs of thick sesame-encrusted tofu steak were reportedly outstanding. Must have been – no offer to share. My buddies ordered the sweet potato and black bean tart and a side of fingerling potatoes, all of which was so good they did not offer to share either. We ordered a side of pommes frites, although they clearly were on the menu to appease the unadventureous.

For dessert, the four of us agreed on the vegan chocolate cake topped with passion fruit sorbet, which the waitress said was so rich it would be wise to share. We’re glad we did. Although it’s tiny, it is the richest chocolatey thing I ever tasted. Salt sprinkled on top of the tangy sorbet gave it a nice kick.

It took a while for our dinner to arrive and seemingly an eternity for dessert. Some would find this a shortcoming. But I actually preferred having a chance to catch up with friends and talk about the elections and our jobs between courses without feeling rushed.

The atmosphere at Vegetate was minimalist and pleasant. The lighting was low and inviting. The grassy green accent walls soothed. My only complaint is that the music (expertly spun house and dance tracks) was too loud.

All told I don’t agree with the reviews concluding that Vegetate is overpriced. Our check came to about 100 dollars for all four of us, and that included drinks for three. By D.C. fine dining standards, that's more than reasonable. I highly recommend Vegetate, even if you are not vegan or vegetarian. Couldn't we all stand to eat more vegetables?

1414 9th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20001
Check Web site for hours.

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