The menu at Vendemmia, the new pasta house in Madrona, offers more vegetable dishes than any other category of food—twice as many, on a recent visit, than its selection of mains. Grilled green beans with olive oil and sea salt. Baby carrots with crème fraiche and pistachio.
Over at Chop Shop, the looker of a newbie from Ericka Burke in Chophouse Row, the double pork chop might be the title character but the highlighted box smack in the middle of the menu reveals the most intrigue: the sugar snap peas with peaches, radish, carrot, onion petals, and curried yogurt; the purple kohlrabi with shungiku (chrysanthemum greens) and basil and chile and peanut.
Seth Caswell’s revisioning of the Sorrento Hotel’s Hunt Club, now The Dunbar Room, was probably foreordained to be vegetal, given Caswell’s resume and all, but I’m not sure I was prepared in this most burnished of Old World rooms to have my socks knocked off by a hippie-dippie preparation like chopped brassicas: a bowl of broccoli, cauliflower, and feta cheese all tiny-diced up with lentils, quinoa, and chickpeas. This is as Seth Caswell a dish as, say, smoked yogurt with pickled vegetables is a Matt Dillon dish, or coconut cream pie is a Tom Douglas dish…and it is simple bliss.
Which brings us to T-Doug’s latest, the casual Carlile Room across from the Paramount. Its whole deal is plants—not counting, you know, the roasted and rotisserie’d meats. But what’s groundbreaking here is that the meats are presented less prominently on the menu, as side dishes if desired, with the vegetable dishes forefronted in both billing and creative firepower. Vegetable dishes like slow cooked fairy tale eggplant with marinated gypsy peppers, sweet onion, and burnt cumin aioli; hibiscus-steeped cucumber with brown basmatic rice, cashew, avocado, borage, and blueberries; chickpea-fava fritters with almonds, herbs, carob syrup, and a pickled peach. Yes.
What all this does, besides feeding us grandly, is get the proportions right. You know, as in the famous directive from preeminent food journalist Michael Pollan: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”